German Court Rules Frankfurt Must Ban Old Diesel Cars

Frankfurt must ban high-pollution older diesel vehicles from parts of the city from next February as part of a plan to improve air quality, the German administrative court ruled on Wednesday.

The decision by the court in Wiesbaden on a case brought by environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) came after a landmark ruling by Germany’ top administrative court in February opened the door to inner-city bans.

The latest diesel vehicles manufactured in Germany will meet new emissions standards but the majority of diesel cars on German roads are older.

The latest diesel vehicles manufactured in Germany will meet new emissions standards but the majority of diesel cars on German roads are older

The court ruled that Frankfurt must launch a ban from next February of diesel cars that meet Euro-4 emission standards and older standards, and for petrol cars of Euro-1 and 2 standards, while Euro-5 diesels must be banned from next September.

“The driving ban is necessary because all other measures considered by the state will not lead to a significant reduction of nitrogen dioxide emissions in an appropriate time,” said judge Rolf Hartmann. “We need to understand that this is about a threat to our health.”

DUH has argued that banning diesels is the only way for Frankfurt to meet European Union clean air rules which stipulate that nitrogen dioxide pollution should not exceed 40 micrograms per cubic meter of air on average.

Pollution levels have regularly exceeded the limit since 2010, the court heard.

“The long years of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for mineral oil-based combustion engine cars and fossil heating systems are coming home to roost now,” Hans-Josef Fell, founder of the Berlin-headquartered Energy Watch Group told Impact4All.

Fell said: “A really successful strategy for clean air cannot be found while still permitting mineral oil based traffic. Software or hardware modification of diesel and gasoline cars cannot clean the air substantially and can also not contribute to carbon emission reduction.” 

While Fell welcomed the court’s move, he warned that much more must be done to clean up Germany’s air.

Fell said: “The government must now force the car producers to bring very fast zero emission cars into the market. The best move would be to introduce an emission-free car quota, with fast increasing shares. 

“Also necessary is a fast conversation in heating systems, to zero emission heating systems, like solar and wind power-fuelled heat pumps and direct solar heating systems, with seasonal geothermal heat storage.”

The city of Hamburg this year voluntarily blocked diesel models that fail to meet the latest Euro-6 emissions standards from using selected trunk roads. Other cities including Aachen, Duesseldorf and Stuttgart are also considering bans.

Facts-at-a-glance

Which diesel cars are affected?

From 1 February 2019, diesel engines with Euro 4 engines will no longer be permitted in a zone to be defined. Euro 1 and Euro 2 petrol engines will also be affected. From 1 September, this will also apply to Euro 5 class diesel engines.

How many drivers are affected?

Unless diesel vehicles with Frankfurt license plates have a Euro 6 standard, they will not be allowed to drive through the city. This means only around 48 percent of diesel vehicles will be allowed to drive through the city in the future.

This affects around 73,770 vehicle owners with Euro 1 to 5 diesel cars, as figures from the Federal Motor Transport Authority in 2018 show. Around 42 percent of all registered cars in Frankfurt are diesel. Drivers who come to the city every day as commuters are not yet included. 

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