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Brussels: 16 percent fewer diesel vehicles

Since the introduction of the Low Emission Zone in Brussels in January 2018, the number of diesel vehicles has decreased significantly. The situation is quite different in France, however, where the first Low Emission Zone was introduced back in 2015.

In France, people like to compare themselves with the two other French-speaking countries in Europe, Switzerland and Belgium. Now it has been discovered that the northern neighbours are much more successful in displacing diesel vehicles on the roads.

According to the European Environment Agency, about 1000 people a year die from air pollution in Brussels alone. This number could now be reduced. In just three years, it has been possible to drastically reduce the number of diesel vehicles in Brussels and its neighbouring municipalities. The introduction of the Brussels Low Emission Zone is seen as one of the reasons for this. Since January 2018, there has been a low-emission zone in the Brussels-Capital Region, which denies entry to cars, campers, buses and vans if they run on petrol, LPG or CNG and are below Euronorm 2, or if they run on diesel and are below Euronorm 4. Trucks over 7.5 tonnes are not affected by these restrictions. The environmental zone has been a complete success: the share of diesel vehicles in total traffic has been reduced from 62 percent to 46 percent. There has also been a massive reduction in pollutants: in Brussels and the surrounding area, emissions of nitrogen dioxide have been reduced by 9 per cent, of particulate matter PM2.5 by 17 per cent and of soot particles by as much as 38 per cent. It is expected that the values will drop even further next year, as further tightening will be introduced from 2022

The situation is quite different in France. There, since the introduction of such a zone in Paris in September 2015, only a 5 percent decrease in diesel vehicles has been recorded. Accordingly, pollutant emissions have not fallen to the same extent. Airparif, the organisation that monitors air quality in and around the French capital, points out that it is generally difficult to compare the effects of an environmental zone with those in other countries. This is because there are many more reasons for good or bad air. On the one hand, the normal sale of more modern vehicles, which is not stimulated by low emission zones, on the other hand, the different design of the low emission zones and, of course, also financial incentives on the part of the government to buy an electric vehicle.

Olivier Blond, former director of the association Respire ("Breathe through"), also argues that two measures in particular have caused the decline in Brussels.  First, the Belgian government taxes diesel more heavily than petrol. Secondly, and Blond considers this to be decisive, cars in Belgium are checked with automatic cameras. In France, however, the control of environmental zones still requires personnel, which is often not available in sufficient numbers. Thus, the controls in France are not nearly as effective as in Belgium and consequently neither are the environmental zones.