German politicians and the car industry had tried hard to avoid having cities ban polluting cars.
Germany’s car culture is under attack. A federal court in Leipzig said Tuesday that Düsseldorf and Stuttgart can ban the dirtiest diesel cars from their streets in order to meet EU pollution standards. The verdict will have an impact across the country and deals a blow to the car worship that rules Germany’s politics, economy and lifestyle.
The car industry is Germany’s largest, and one of the reasons the country is an export juggernaut. For decades the German dream for many has meant a house in the suburbs and a well-engineered German car to make the commute to work.
But that dream is choking many cities. The EU says there are 28 urban areas in Germany persistently breaching limits for nitrogen dioxide — a pollutant largely caused by diesel engines and the main ingredient of smog.
“If public transport connections were more attractive and better, most people would shift” — Peter Liese, German MEP
Activists are starting to sue cities for failing to clean up their air, and Tuesday’s court ruling means that cities can act to ban polluting cars — a step that politicians and the industry have fought very hard to prevent. Widespread urban driving bans would demand expensive upgrades to public transport and technical changes from carmakers, plus a shift in social attitude.
“This is another huge win for people and a clear example of courts stepping in where government action is found wanting,” said James Thornton, the CEO of ClientEarth, which together with German NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe has filed legal cases against several German cities breaching EU air quality standards.