Landmark ruling could cause traffic chaos and dramatically hit the value of diesel vehicles
Kate ConnollyFirst published on Tue 27 Feb 2018 11.36 GMT
Millions of heavily polluting vehicles could eventually disappear from roads across Germany after its top administrative court ruled that cities have the right to ban diesel motors in an effort to improve deadly air quality levels.
Tuesday’s historic decision potentially affects an estimated 12m vehicles and has delivered a heavy blow to Europe’s largest car market, while being celebrated by environmental campaigners.
Germany’s highest administrative court in Leipzig ruled in favour of upholding bans that were introduced by lower courts in the cities of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, two of the most polluted German cities, after appeals were lodged by the states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia.
The Leipzig court ruling in the case, which was originally brought by the environmental groups Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German environmental aid or DUH) and ClientEarth, paves the way for cities across Germany to follow suit.
“It’s a great day for clean air in Germany,” Jürgen Resch, of the DUH, said.
The court said it would be up to city and municipal authorities to apply the bans, but advised them to “exercise proportionality” in enforcing them, and to impose them gradually, granting exemptions for certain vehicles, such as ambulances, rubbish collection lorries and police cars.
Ugo Taddei, a lawyer for ClientEarth called the decision “an incredible result for people’s health”, and suggested it could have an impact in foreign courts. “This ruling gives us legal clarity which we’ve long waited for, that diesel restrictions are legally permissible and will necessarily trigger a domino effect across the country, impacting as well on other legal cases,” he told German media.
ClientEarth believed that imposing traffic restrictions on the most polluting vehicles was the most effective way of improving protection from air pollution, he said.
Experts estimate that excessive amounts of nitrogen oxides or NOx in the air kill between 6,000 and 13,000 people in Germany every year, causing a range of health conditions, from strokes to asthma.