Why are Europe's Low Emission Zones fuelling unrest?

(Context, 9 Feb 2024) Clean air seems like a no-brainer benefit but across Europe restrictions on polluting cars have sparked anger and protests

As Europe's cities seek to cut the emissions fuelling global warming and clear fume-filled air, one solution - restrictions on polluting cars - has sparked widespread protests, led to violent acts of vandalism and inflamed conspiracy theories. 

From London to Rome, the introduction of Low Emission Zones (LEZs) and Ultra Low Emission Zones (ULEZs) has enraged some city residents, who say fines and charges imposed on the most polluting vehicles mean more hardship for society's poorest during a global cost-of-living crisis. 

More than 300 LEZs are already in place around Europe, and more than 500 are planned by 2025, according to Brussels-based environmental NGO Transport and Environment.

Here's what you need to know about these measures.

Why were LEZs and ULEZs introduced?

LEZs and ULEZs aim to reduce the amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particles (PM10 and PM2.5), sulphur oxides (SOx), carbon monoxide(CO) and heavy metals released into the atmosphere by vehicles and are implemented in areas where air pollution levels are considered a danger to public health.

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Context, 9 Feb 2024: Why are Europe's Low Emission Zones fuelling unrest?