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France fails in the climate fight

The country faces a 100 million euro fine for excessive air pollution. A two-month deadline set by the European Commission to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution passed unsuccessfully yesterday. At the same time, a French court ruled that the state was partly to blame for the country's climate damage.

At the end of 2019, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had found nitrogen oxide pollution in twelve French cities to be too high. Among them Paris, Lyon and Marseille. After a year in which nothing much happened, the demands became more urgent in December 2020. The European Commission warned France to take "all necessary measures" to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution within a two-month deadline. The EU had also pointed out specific aspects, such as insufficient local-national coordination, low budget, as well as the lack of fiscal instruments to fight air pollution. The deadline set passed yesterday.

France now faces a fine of a whopping 100 million euros.

At the same time, a French court ruled that the state was partly to blame for the climate damage in the country. The decision followed a complaint by Greenpeace, which was supported by 2.3 million people through a petition. The resulting penalty will only be determined in the coming months.

With regard to the reduction of nitrogen oxide, much is to happen in France this year. Among other things, many environmental zones will be newly introduced or the rules in existing zones will be tightened. By 2023, stickers 3 and worse are to be banned in many cities, and by 2025 all major cities in the country are to have introduced driving bans. However, the organisation Climate Action Network complains that this timetable is not strict enough and that the nitrogen oxide limit value will still be exceeded frequently in the coming years. The organisation also criticises the fact that the government is not working towards a general ban on combustion cars, but only wants to regulate older vehicles with combustion engines step by step.

Likewise, the introduction of a new climate index that measures air pollution peaks and thus triggers the activation of temporary zones leaves much to be desired. Although PM2.5, i.e. smaller fine dust particles, which had previously been completely ignored, has been included in the index. However, it is still not used as a trigger for the activation of environmental zones.

Similar to France, other EU states that continue to detect excessively high levels of air pollution are threatened with heavy penalties by the EU Commission. The decision could therefore also lead to stricter rules and an expansion of diesel driving bans in Germany, for example, in order to avert a complaint from the EU and avoid penalties.

You can find all permanent and temporary environmental zones in France in our Green-Zones app.