German court orders further diesel driving bans in Cologne, Bonn

BERLIN, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) — Cologne and Bonn have joined a rapidly growing list of major cities in Germany where municipal policymakers have been ordered to impose diesel driving bans on Thursday.

The Cologne Administrative Court ordered the two cities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to ban older diesel vehicles from some of their streets from April 2019 onwards. In doing so, the judges sided with the Environmental Action Germany (DUH) lobby group which has filed dozens of similar lawsuits in the wake of the “dieselgate” emissions cheating scandal.

Since 2010, Cologne and Bonn have both been in consistent breach of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution limits set by the European Union (EU). The court concurred with the DUH on Thursday that outright bans on older diesel vehicles, a key source of harmful NO2 emissions, consequently offered the only effective means to improve urban air quality. The verdict can still be appealed by the defendant cities.

The development was largely interpreted in German media as a further blow to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s federal government in Berlin. Merkel has set herself the explicit target of preventing further driving bans and has sought to ensure vehicle owners that their interests would be protected in legislative responses to the “dieselgate” scandal.

The chancellor has announced that her party would seek to pass legislation shortly to outlaw “disproportionate” restrictions on diesel vehicles where in areas nitrogen oxide (NOx) and NO2 emissions levels are only slightly above the EU regulatory threshold. By now, judges have already ordered bans in Hamburg, Stuttgart, Berlin, Frankfurt and Mainz amongst others.

As outlined in a recent policy package, the ruling “grand coalition” is keen to promote fleet renewal measures and so-called “hardware upgrades” of diesel vehicles which were fitted with illicit defeat devices to understate their NOx emissions as a less disruptive alternative to bans. While the Volkswagen and Daimler Groups have offered to contribute 2,400 euros to anticipated costs of up to 3,000 euros per retrofitted car, however, several major carmakers still refuse to participate in the German government’s hardware upgrading program.

It remained unclear following the verdict by the Cologne Administrative Court, whether a further round of talks held between Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer and industry representatives on Thursday had produced a breakthrough on the issue. Scheuer had publicly urged carmakers to relax their opposition to hardware upgrades ahead of the closely-watched meeting.

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