Vehicle bans emerging from air quality lawsuits in Germany

ClientEarth demands urgent clarification on UK government’s air quality plans, 16 August 2017

ClientEarth has written to the UK Government asking for urgent answers over disturbing holes in court-ordered plans to clean up illegal levels of air pollution.  The letter, which gives ministers 14 days to respond, highlights major questions which the government’s plans leave unanswered.

The plans, which were released on 26 July, pass responsibility to 23 Local Councils in England to find a solution to the air pollution crisis, but offer little detail on how air quality will be improved in the rest of England.

In the letter, ClientEarth asks for immediate clarification about the guidance given to local authorities on how to evaluate the best ways of bringing air pollution down as soon as possible as well as how ministers will ensure that air quality limits are met across England.

The environmental law organisation also calls for clarity on how the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) will assess plans from the 23 local authorities and how quickly this will be done.

ClientEarth lawyer Anna Heslop, said: “We were extremely disappointed with the plans when they came out. They pass the buck to local authorities and leave some majors questions about process and funding.

We are worried that ministers may be running away from their responsibility to ensure people across the UK are not breathing illegal levels of air pollution every day. We hope that the government’s answers will finally show a resolve to urgently tackle the UK’s toxic air. Up to now, that has been sadly lacking.”

ClientEarth is also waiting for urgent clarification from the Scottish and Welsh governments as to their and DEFRA’s plans to clean up illegal levels of air pollution in the devolved nations.

The plans released by the government on 26 July were the result of ClientEarth’s second successful court case against ministers to clean up illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) air pollution in the UK. There are illegal levels of NO2 in 37 out of 43 zones in the UK.

In areas with illegal levels of NO2, the main culprit is diesel engines. ClientEarth has called for a national network of clean air zones, which would keep the most polluting vehicles away from the most polluted areas of our towns and cities.

This should be accompanied by a diesel scrappage scheme and other incentives to help people move to cleaner forms of transport.

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Stuttgart judge demands diesel bans from 2018, ruling retrofits will not tackle pollution, 28 July 2017

A Stuttgart judge has ruled that retrofitting illegally polluting diesel vehicles will not solve the German region’s air quality crisis and demanded a diesel ban be implemented in the city from January 2018.

The ruling means Stuttgart’s government must rewrite its Air Quality Plan (AQP), as the current version is inadequate and will not protect people’s health in the shortest time possible.

Air quality in the region is illegally poor, regularly breaching limits for toxic gas nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and dangerous coarse particles (PM10). The levels are some of the worst in Germany.

Stuttgart’s local government came up with a draft Air Quality Plan in response to legal action launched by environmental lawyers ClientEarth and German charity Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH).

The draft plan contained some positive measures – including a reactive ‘peak pollution’ diesel ban – but was not adequate to tackle Stuttgart’s air pollution, in the charities’ view. Shortly before the hearing, Stuttgart’s authorities tried to take a step back and avoid diesel bans, relying on the car industry’s proposals to retrofit older “Euro 5” diesel models.

But the judge agreed with ClientEarth and DUH that it was insufficient and ruled that restricting access to the most polluting diesel vehicles is unavoidable to protect the health of people living and working in Stuttgart.

ClientEarth clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “Hot on the heels of Dusseldorf and Munich, now Stuttgart too has been ordered by a court to introduce restrictions on the most polluting diesel vehicles. In striking contrast to reluctant governments and a discredited car industry, courts across Europe are stepping in to protect people’s right to clean air and to impose effective measures that will put a definitive end to this public health crisis.

“The judge has clarified that a diesel ban is unavoidable. Stuttgart’s authorities must now find rapid and effective ways to solve the region’s air quality issues. This should include a more structured approach that acknowledges the emissions issues with diesel vehicles – it must also not put undue confidence in what retrofitting can achieve.”

Lawyer Remo Klinger, who represented the NGOs in the case, said: “The court saw through the bluster of the Stuttgart authorities’ plan, posing critical questions and dismissing the arguments. We now have a reinforced decision that says diesel bans are the way forward and actionable as of today. This goes even further than the progressive decision by Düsseldorf in September – diesel bans are not just permitted in certain streets: they can be implemented for the whole low emission zone.”

Debate around diesel bans is ongoing in Germany, which is home to many global automotive heavyweights. Most recently, Munich’s mayor announced he would implement a diesel ban, on the basis that he could see “no other way” to bring alarming air pollution levels in the region down as quickly as possible.

A decision is due this autumn from the German Federal Administrative Court, which will determine whether cities have the power to ban diesel vehicles or the federal government must decide.

Stuttgart’s authorities must now introduce restrictions on diesel vehicles from January 2018 to tackle the public health emergency facing the city.

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Munich to ban diesel following court order 16 June 2017

Munich has announced it will implement a ban on diesel vehicles, in its ongoing attempt to combat illegal air pollution. The mayor of the German city, who made the announcement, said he saw “no other way” to resolve the issue in the shortest possible timeframe.

The move follows a court judgment ordering the city to improve its air quality plans, the result of legal action pursued by Deutsche Umwelthilfe and ClientEarth.

The environmental lawyers and campaigners welcomed the move as a step in the right direction, but warn that excluding Euro 6 vehicles from the ban, as the mayor plans to, will present its own set of problems.

The trouble with Euro 6

CEO of Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) Jürgen Resch said: “The diesel ban in Münich should actually apply to most Euro 6 diesel vehicles. Current measurements show even the latest Euro 6 models chart record nitrogen dioxide emissions – often these newer models are in fact many times more polluting than 10-year-old Euro 4 diesels. If the Bavarian government really intends to exempt Euro 6 diesel vehicles from the ban, we will address this in our ongoing legal action.”

DUH plans to release new data in the coming days about the true extent of pollution from Euro 6 vehicles. Resch added: “The vast majority of the Euro 6 diesels currently in circulation are many times over the legal limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx). Those who want to keep driving in cities must under no circumstances buy a diesel car.”

Thornton added: “The mayor’s announcement today is testimony to the effectiveness of litigation in defending public health and achieving real change.”