German cities will be allowed to ban older diesel vehicles from some areas following a landmark court ruling.
The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig said the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf could legally ban more older, more polluting diesel cars from zones worst affected by pollution.
The government had opposed the bans, which set a precedent for the country, arguing they would cause disruption.
Analysts said the decision could lead to similar action across Europe.
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.
The group said bans were necessary after about 70 German cities exceeded European Union nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels limits last year.
Diesel emissions containing nitrogen oxide can cause respiratory disease.
The likelihood now is that the German government will rush to introduce some sort of national policy, to ensure at least some level of consistency across the country.
It’s not just about Germany either – cities across Europe are struggling to meet EU air quality standards, and may well see the German ruling setting as a precedent.
New diesel cars won’t be affected, but that’s not really the point. Consumers are already moving away from the technology – and the prospect of city bans will only accelerate that process.
So diesel’s decline is likely to gather momentum.
That’s a problem for the industry, because while diesels produce high levels of nitrogen oxide – a major urban pollutant – they emit relatively low levels of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.
So moves to control one environmental problem may end up undermining efforts to combat another – unless we all start driving electric cars very soon.Diesel vehicles have faced greater scrutiny since VW’s “dieselgate” scandal.
In September 2015, the car maker admitted it had used illegal software to cheat US emissions tests. Some 11 million cars worldwide ended up being affected by the scandal.
DUH said it hoped the bans in German cities would end the industry’s “resistance” to refitting older, more-polluting cars to meet the latest EU standards.
ClientEarth, an environmental law firm that worked on the case, said the win was “a tremendous result for people’s health in Germany and may have an impact even further afield”.
Lead clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “This ruling gives long-awaited legal clarity that diesel restrictions are legally permissible and will unavoidably start a domino effect across the country, with implications for our other legal cases.”