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Diesel vehicles can now be banned from German cities after court ruling

ABC News, 28 February 2018
German cities can now ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars from their streets, a move that could accelerate a shift away from the combustion engine and force manufacturers to pay to improve exhaust systems.

A court on Tuesday said the city of Stuttgart, which styles itself as the birthplace of the modern automobile and is home to Mercedes-maker Daimler, should consider gradually imposing a year-round ban for older diesel models, while Duesseldorf should also think about curbs.

Many other German cities exceed European Union limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx), known to cause respiratory disease.

After the ruling, the northern city of Hamburg said it would start to implement limits on diesel vehicles from the end of April.

There has been a global backlash against diesel-engine cars since leading German carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating US exhaust tests.

The scandal has spread across the industry and boosted investment in electric vehicles.

Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year.

France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Ban embarrassment for Merkel’s government

Bans in the home of some of the world’s biggest automakers are a further blow for the sector, and an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which has faced criticism for its close ties to the industry.

Germany has long promoted diesel to help cut carbon dioxide emissions and meet climate change goals, but the country now fears a shift away from the combustion engine could endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The ruling was praised by environmental groups but angered many politicians and business lobbies who said millions of drivers might end up unable to use or sell vehicles they bought in good faith.

“Driving bans have a massive impact on our ownership rights, on mobility and on our profession,” Association of German Tradesmen president Hans Peter Wollseifer said. “The carmakers are to blame for the diesel problem, not us tradesmen.”

The VDA auto industry lobby took comfort from the fact the court had not insisted on bans.

“It is a rejection of general driving bans … They must be proportional and only considered as a last resort,” the VDA’s Matthias Wissmann said in a statement.

Police can’t enforce bans
The ruling by the country’s highest federal administrative court came after German states had appealed against bans imposed by local courts in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf in cases brought by environmental group DUH over poor air quality.

“This is a great day for clean air in Germany,” DUH managing director Juergen Resch said.

He added: “This is a debacle for the policies of the grand coalition, which has sided with the auto industry”, referring to the ruling coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats that Ms Merkel hopes to renew in the coming weeks.

Germany’s police union warned it did not have capacity to enforce any bans.

People could be forced to upgrade
Cars that meet Euro-4 emissions standards could be banned from Stuttgart from next January, while Euro-5 vehicles should not be banned until September 1, 2019, four years after the introduction of the latest Euro-6 standard.

Tradesmen and some residents should be exempted, the court added.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said bans could still be avoided if automakers agreed to pay to upgrade the exhaust cleaning systems of older diesels. “The problem was caused by carmakers and we should not release them from their responsibility,” she said.

Of the 15 million diesel cars on Germany’s roads, only 2.7 million have Euro-6 technology.