By Erika Clugston
As part of the latest chapter of the diesel emissions saga in Germany, the administrative court of Wiesbaden announced its decision on Wednesday that Frankfurt must implement driving bans, as early as February of 2019. This ruling has come following one of several lawsuits filed against the government by Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), an environmental protection group.
The verdict requires that older diesel vehicles of Euro 4 standard and older, as well as Euro 1 and 2 petrol engines, must be banned from February 2019 on. Starting in September that same year, a ban on Euro 5 diesel vehicles will take effect. The court commented that action is to be taken immediately, because to take any longer will have little positive effect on pollution levels. With the current plan, the hope is to see improvements in air quality by 2020.
Will the politicians follow through? Another claim filed by Deutsche Umwelthilfe is still making its way through the German courts, and debate rages on as to whether politicians who don’t implement driving bans should serve jail time. Dorothee Saar, Head of Traffic & Air Quality Management at DUH, spoke with CleanTechnica regarding the case:
“There is a binding court decision from administrative court Munich from 2012 (finally approved in 2014) that calls the State of Bavaria to revise the air quality plan and include measures that ensure compliance with NO2 air quality standards (binding since 2010) as soon as possible. Since then, the state refuses to take according action. Several other court decisions have followed, including two penalties of 4,000 Euros each. Now, the High administrative court in Munich decided to ask the European Court of Justice to answer the question if in such a case an imprisonment against the responsible person (in the end the prime minister of the State of Bavaria) is feasible.
“We are a bit concerned about the case that administrations not only deny their duty to save public from avoidable air pollution, leading to severe illness and premature death but also to deny court decisions – including a decision from the Highest Administrative Court Germany from February this year that confirmed diesel bans as appropriate if no other measures can be found to comply with air quality standards as soon as possible. Having said that, we kind of hope that a “yes” from the ECJ would make the responsible actors in Munich change their minds and present an air quality plan (including bans of dirty diesel vehicles) that deserves this name.”
The state premier Volker Bouffier and Environment Minister Priska Hinz released a joint statement regarding the Frankfurt decision, saying, “We want a fundamental solution to this problem, rather than driving bans.” And yet, no other solutions have been implemented, leaving the health of the citizens at risk.
This is not to say that banning diesel vehicles will be easy. According to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurt is the unofficial diesel capital of Germany, with diesel vehicles making up 43% of all traffic. That’s a lot of diesel vehicle owners, in comparison with only 26% in Berlin and 35% in Hamburg. The ban would then mean that 74,000 Frankfurt drivers would have to avoid the city center, as well as the 35,000 daily commuters to the city. The “Metropol Region Frankfurt” is the 3rd largest economic region in Germany, with a population of 5.8 million and with Frankfurt at the core center. It’s the most drastic ruling up until now and would make diesel cars much less attractive in this region.
The question these cases have brought up is to what extent it is the responsibility of the German government to intervene in environmental and health (air pollution) issues. As court battles continue over the implementation of driving bans throughout Germany, stay tuned to find out how the drama unfolds.