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Berlin zero-emission zone against the law

Plans to establish a zero-emission zone for internal combustion vehicles in Berlin appear to have failed. After initially cancelling the timetable until 2030, an expert opinion has now confirmed that the car-free zone is against the law.

Diesel and petrol cars will probably be on the roads in Berlin for a long time to come. An expert opinion commissioned by Berlin's CDU leader Kai Wegner shows that the ban zone for internal combustion vehicles within the S-Bahn ring is illegal. The reason: driving bans can be introduced on the basis of the Immission Control Act if the limit values for air pollutants are exceeded. However, CO2 is not one of these pollutants listed in the law. Since the current air values cannot be used to justify a complete ban on internal combustion engines, the law would first have to be amended so that either the limit values for particulate matter and nitrogen oxide would be reduced or CO2 would be included in the law as a pollutant. Only then, according to the report, could a zero-emission zone be introduced.

However, the report is not only a setback for the advocates of better air and less traffic in Berlin's inner city. It probably also affects other cities in Germany. In general, the current legal situation could make it difficult to tighten the rules in Germany's environmental zones in order to further improve the air in the cities. Wherever the current limits are complied with, there would be no legal basis for tightening the rules to reduce the number of combustion vehicles.  

Whether the limits for air pollutants will actually be reduced, or whether CO2 will be included in the immission control law, however, remains questionable. This would mean that the cities would be obliged by law to comply with the stricter values or would have to control and regulate CO2 emissions more strongly. It is also possible that the limit values will be changed at the European level to bring them into line with the values of the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO sets much stricter standards for nitrogen oxides and particulate matter than the EU.

For the foreseeable future, however, tightening the rules in Germany's environmental zones is likely to remain difficult. So while many cities in Europe continue to ban internal combustion vehicles, reduce traffic in cities in general and make their cities greener, Germany remains loyal to diesel and petrol cars. Once again, bureaucracy in Germany stands in the way of making inner cities more liveable and safeguarding the health of citizens.