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Switzerland's first permanent low emission zone

Nitrogen dioxide pollution in Basel is clearly too high. Several measures are being taken to change this. Among other things, Switzerland's first permanent low emission zone is to be introduced.

Feldbergstrasse in Kleinbasel, the part of Basel on the right bank of the Rhine, is the city's main traffic artery. About 12,000 to 13,000 vehicles use it every day. A ban on older vehicles does not yet exist here. After measurements by the Air Hygiene Office showed that nitrogen dioxide levels of 44 micrograms per cubic metre (µg/m³) were well above the limit, something must be done. Although Switzerland is not subject to the EU directive and thus to the limit value of 40 µg/m³, it has set itself an even stricter limit value of 30 µg/m³ in its air pollution control ordinance. This limit is clearly exceeded in Feldbergstrasse.

A 30 km/h zone is intended to remedy the situation. From the summer, vehicles will only be allowed to drive at reduced speeds in Feldbergstrasse. According to estimates, this will reduce the nitrogen dioxide content of the air by about 10 per cent. However, this is not enough to get below the limit value. The city is therefore planning to take a national first with a permanent low emission zone and wants to ban older diesel vehicles that do not meet the Euro 6 standard. However, this requires the approval of the federal government. So far, only Geneva has an environmental zone, but it is only activated when air quality is poor.

Swiss Environment and Transport Minister Simonetta Sommaruga (SP) is also focusing more and more on the electrification of the transport sector. Already, trucks with diesel engines are being converted in Switzerland by installing two electric motors and batteries. The trucks are practical with a range of about 250 to 300 km/h. According to Sommaruga, however, in order to become climate-neutral by 2050, something must be done above all about electricity, since the electrification of the transport sector depends on green electricity in order to really make a contribution to the climate. She is therefore backing solar power and hydropower.

The Greens are also getting things moving in the Swiss debate on combustion engines. They are calling for a ban on the registration of new SUVs from 2022, arguing that these vehicles are climate polluters and endanger other road users. They also want an end to the registration of new vehicles with combustion engines as early as 2023. They would thus choose an earlier phase-out date than all other European countries.

If the federal government approves the low emission zone in Basel, this could lead the way for other cities in the country. The Greens, who continue to gain strength, could thus put pressure on the electrification of the Swiss vehicle fleet. For the Swiss People's Party (SVP), even the 30 km/h speed limit on the Feldbergstrasse is going too far. The introduction of permanent environmental zones will thus certainly meet with a lot of criticism and headwind. However, these would be necessary in order to be able to comply with the self-imposed limit value.