It can’t be left to Europe’s cities to clean up noxious air

(The Guardian, 12 Jul 2019) Measures such as London’s ultra-low emission zone are good. But only governments can enforce radical change.

Madrid was hailed as a public health beacon last November when it rolled out ambitious restrictions on the most polluting cars. Seven months and one election day later, a new conservative city council suspended enforcement of the clean air zone, a first step toward its possible demise.

Mayor José Luis Martínez-Almeida made opposition to the zone a centrepiece of his election campaign, despite its success in improving air quality. A judge has now overruled the city’s decision to stop levying fines, ordering them reinstated. But with legal battles ahead, the zone’s future looks uncertain at best.

Madrid’s back and forth on clean air is a pointed reminder of the limits to the patchwork, city-by-city approach that characterises efforts on air pollution across Europe, Britain very much included.

Among other weaknesses, the measures cities must employ when left to tackle dirty air on their own are politically contentious, and therefore vulnerable. That’s because they inevitably put the costs of cleaning the air on to individual drivers – who must pay fees or buy better vehicles – rather than on to the car manufacturers whose cheating is the real cause of our toxic pollution.

External link

The Guardian, 12 Jul 2019: It can’t be left to Europe’s cities to clean up noxious air