On Tuesday, Germany’s federal government cleared the release of $1.19 billion of funding to help cities tackle diesel pollution. The money will be invested in the hopes of finding traffic solutions to lower air pollution. The German government has said that it wants access to the funds to be as simple as possible, light on bureaucracy. Around one quarter of the fund will come from German carmakers.
“We have been able to put together an immediate plan of action that will be a step, and I emphasize a step, further toward a solution for elevated levels of nitrogen oxides,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a news conference.
Pressure has been continuously growing on Germany to enforce Clean Air limits put in place by the European Union in 2010. Many cities in Germany face potential driving bans because the air pollution is often above the allowed maximum levels due to exhaust fumes emitted by the vast number of vehicles on the road. Overall, the nitrous oxide emissions levels are down almost 60 percent when compared to figure from the 1990’s, however still in excess of EU targets.
According to the Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) environmental lobby, there are around 90 cities, including Munich and Stuttgart, where BMW and Daimler are headquartered, could face penalties for having excess nitrogen dioxide levels.
Part of the funds are expected to be invested into electric buses, electric charging stations which would hopefully encourage the purchase of electric vehicles, and a more environmentally friendly traffic infrastructure.
Germany’s Environmental Minister, Barbara Hendricks, praised the initiative as an important first step, and also called on the automobile industry to support the government’s action plan. For decades the automobile industry has been an important piece of the German economy, and has largely operated without much interference from German regulators. However, at a “diesel summit” in September, Merkel called for the need to share the job of cleaning up inner-city air quality with automakers. Carmakers VW, Daimler and BMW were expected to contribute about a quarter of the fund, but because of foreign rivals’ refusal to also make a commitment, have since lowered their pledge.
Right now there is also a fear of a ban on diesel cars by German courts in the near future, however authorities have said they are working to prevent such a situation. Germany’s highest administrative court in Leipzig is expected to rule in February on a potential driving bans for diesel cars. Also, on Tuesday it was reported that the activist group Environmental Action Germany had filed lawsuits calling for diesel bans in 19 German cities.
“You can imagine that the affected states and above all the city mayors have a huge interest in avoiding driving bans,” said Merkel.
For years now the DUH has been suing both local and state authorities throughout Germany in an effort to take steps to improve air quality. The DUH has currently labelled the German governments current plans as insufficient.
“Driving bans have become anything but less likely with those decisions. The projects planned will not lead to [improving] air quality greatly in 2018 and probably also not in 2019,” DUH managing director Juergen Resch told Reuters.
Municipalities have also expressed concern that the fund will not suffice to finance more long-term structural steps.
“Ultimately we need broad changes in transport policy, it will not be possible to organize this with the [$1.19 billion],” head of Germany’s association of municipalities Gerd Landsberg said.
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