Rome joins Germany in banning diesel cars from its city centre

Rome is banning diesel cars in its city centre by 2024 if its mayor’s plans come to pass.

Virginia Raggi announced the decision via Facebook, stating that “if we want to intervene seriously, we have to have the courage to adopt strong measures”.

This isn’t an entirely new precedent for the city, Rome already attempts to ban older vehicles from its roads on days where pollution levels reach critical levels. It’s also vaguely implemented a congestion-reducing tactic whereby it restricts travel in the city to certain days depending if a car number plate ends with an odd or even number.

The news follows a ruling by a German court that sees both Stuttgart and Düsseldorf banning older diesel cars from their city centres. The landmark case could see the diesel-happy Germany spreading a ban across the entire country, having major ramifications on both the auto industry and German citizens.

The key question is, with the UK government already planning to bring a ban to the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, could this sea-change speed up Britain’s plans?

Currently, the ruling only has an effect upon Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, two of Germany’s most polluted cities. Now, thanks to the ruling, they can ban older, more polluting vehicles rather than blanket-ban all diesel vehicles. Such a ban paves the way for other cities in Germany to argue that they too can ban such cars from their inner-city roads. In Italy, Milan had already announced plans to remove diesel cars from its roads by 2030, meaning Rome isn’t even the first Italian city to target diesel.

German automakers have been vocal in their opposition towards a ban and, while good for the health of citizens, it’s a huge change to diesel car owners who may suddenly find themselves unable to drive their cars nor sell them on with any great value.

The German government has a plan in place to ensure that, if a nation-wide ban did come into place, clean public transport replacements were a viable alternative thanks to funding from the auto industry.

We’ll see if the UK follows suit anytime soon.

Government plans to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040

The UK government recently set out a raft of changes aimed at improving air quality in the UK.

As part of the 98-page air quality plan, Britain’s environment ministry proposed a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars across the country from 2040, to coincide with when all vehicles are required to be fully electric. To comply with these plans, local authorities would be able to charge levies on the drivers of the diesel vehicles on the most polluted roads from 2020, if air quality does not improve.

Now Nicola Sturgeon has gone a step further. During a conference in which she outlined her government’s plans for the next year, the first minister said the country plans to meet its “low carbon ambitions” by phasing out new petrol and diesel cars and vans in Scotland by 2032. She didn’t elaborate much further, but it shows a commitment from the first minister to not only beat England, Wales and Northern Ireland to the punch, but also to show how the country will set its own, independent targets for a variety of Scottish matters. 

Elsewhere in the UK, Environment Secretary Michael Gove recently called for local authorities to remove speed bumps, or road humps, to prevent cars slowing down in densely populated areas, and so-called ‘pollution tunnels’ over motorways.

The thinking behind the speed bumps proposal is that fewer emissions will be released and councils should focus on “improving road layouts and junctions to optimise traffic flow”. Understandably, this has been met with fierce criticism. Living Streets told the BBC that if councils remove speed bumps without installing chicanes or speed cameras, children will be put off from walking and cycling to school. This will lead to more parents taking their children to school in cars and could make the pollution problem worse. One mother labelled the plans “daft and irresponsible.”

The ‘pollution tunnels’ plan is weighted with a little more science. If approved, it will see major roads across the UK being transformed into tunnels covered with a material that absorbs the harmful pollution. It is reported that Highways Agency officials are studying a Dutch scheme in which canopies have been placed over the most polluted sections of roads to stop residents breathing in dangerous car fumes. 

The government has been under increasing pressure to reduce air pollution after data provided by the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) found that pollution across the UK regularly surpasses harmful levels.

 At the start of the year, Brixton Road in South London breached its annual air-pollution limit in just five days when levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) exceeded the levels set by EU law. This law states that the average hourly level of NO2 must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre more than 18 times a year. Brixton Road exceeded this limit 19 times in less than a week, and at one point NO2 levels were almost double.

A month later, air-quality levels in London were classed as “unhealthy for sensitive groups”, with an overall rating on the air-quality index of 120. This index measures the amount of so-called PM10s and PM2.5s in the air – microscopic particles of pollution that are inhaled and can lead to respiratory and cardiovascular problems.

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The government published a draft plan of its air-quality plan in May and was seeking consultation on the plans until 15 June. Next week’s announcement is likely to factor in suggestions and recommendations made during that consultation and present the government’s targets, alongside how it plans to meet them.

“A cleaner, healthier environment benefits people and the economy,” the government explains in the draft plan. “Clean air is essential for making sure the United Kingdom (UK) is a healthy and prosperous country for people to live and work.

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“Poor air quality is the largest environmental risk to public health in the UK and investing in cleaner air and doing even more to tackle air pollution are priorities for the UK government,” the report continues. “That is why the UK has adopted tougher, legally binding ceilings for emissions of air pollutants for 2020 and 2030.”

However, the challenge is tackling the problem of NO2 concentrations around roads – the only statutory air-quality obligation the UK is currently failing to meet. As a result, reducing NO2 and carbon emissions from cars and vans is a top priority.

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Beyond the banning of petrol and diesel cars by 2040, the UK government wants all cars and vans to produce zero emissions by 2050.

In the 2016 autumn statement, the UK government committed £290 million to reducing transport emissions, in addition to more than £11 million being given to local authorities through the air quality grant scheme, launched in 2011.

The government is also promising an additional £4.7 billion for research and development, which ties in with this week’s £246 million government investment drive. This drive, which forms part of the Industrial Strategy, will fund a series of competitions, under the Faraday Challenge project, over the next four years to boost the research and development of expertise in battery technology.

Alongside the Industrial Strategy speech made by the business secretary, the government and Ofgem unveiled its “flexible energy” report, “Upgrading our energy system”, which describes how the government and organisations plan to develop new technologies that will help store and manage the UK’s energy.

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In particular, this could take the form of home batteries (similar to the Powerwall and Powerwall 2 proposed by Elon Musk) and Ofgem believes new smart technologies such as smart meters – and appliances you can control from your phone – will help the country save up to £40 billion on energy costs over decades to come.

Earlier this month, Volvo became the first traditional car manufacturer to set a date for phasing out vehicles powered solely by the internal combustion engine. It has promised that all models launched after 2019 will be electric or hybrids.

Separately, German auto giant BMW announced it had chosen its Cowley plant in Oxford to produce an electric Mini from 2019, and the Mercedes AMG F1 team recently announced it would be racing in Formula E from 2019 to play a role in the development of hybrid and electric technologies.

Images: Activ-Michoko, Pixabay/DEFRA

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