Germany’s national court has ruled that city authorities do have the power to ban diesel cars if they should choose to do so to tackle air pollution.
Regional courts in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf had ruled that diesel bans were an effective way to bring nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution down as quickly as possible to comply with EU limits, but the authorities in both cities appealed against the rulings.
However, in a major decision yesterday (27 February), these appeals were rejected by the country’s Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig – essentially paving the way for the cities to ban diesel cars.
The court has said that all diesels up to and including Euro 4 can be restricted by city authorities. From September 2019, bans could also apply to Euro 5 diesel vehicles, it is believed.
The ruling could have major implications for a number of clean air cases open in German cities, brought by national NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), and environment lawyers ClientEarth – 19 in total – according to the two organistions.
James Thornton, chief executive of the campaign group ClientEarth, which has also led successful legal actions against the UK government’s clean air plans, including the most recent plan which was ruled ‘unlwaful’ in the High Court last week, said that the ruling made it ‘absolutely clear’ that diesel bans were necessary in German cities.
He said: “Germany’s national law was preventing regional authorities from protecting people’s health. But this exceptional ruling has made it absolutely clear that German cities have first and foremost to comply with EU law – and therefore have the power and the obligation to put diesel restrictions in place.
“This is another huge win for people and a clear example of courts stepping in where government action is found wanting.â€?
But, Germany’s car industry, represented by the Verband der Automobilindustrie has claimed that diesel bans must be “proportionate and only considered as a last resortâ€?.
In a statement, originally issued in German, the organisation’s president, Matthias Wissmann, said: “It is now up to the cities to implement these requirements in order to further improve air quality. From the point of view of the automotive industry, it is also important for the court to make a clear call to the cities to pay particular attention to the interests of those affected in their clean air plans. That means: This is a rejection of general driving bans.â€?
He added: “Now it is in the hands of politics to do everything to avoid a patchwork of different regulations in the cities. Targeting would certainly be a nationwide regulation. The many drivers who have been baffled by the ban on traffic for months now need legal clarity.â€?