Mayors of Paris, Brussels, and Madrid fight for cleaner air for their citizens. Barcelona has not yet joined the plaintiffs.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ)will hear arguments this week to determine whether three European cities can challenge vehicle emissions regulations set by the European Commission and agreed by national governments.
The cities of Paris, Brussels and Madrid are seeking to bring a joint Action to the General Court of the European Union for the annulment of Regulation n° 2016/646 of the European Commission.
The absence of Barcelona, which faces high levels of NOx emissions and particulate matter, is significant. The fact that Seat, one of Volkswagen’s subsidiaries, is located just a few kilometers outside the city could be the reason city officials have refrained from legal action.
[Editor’s note: Barcelona city officials responded with the following comment, May 16.]
“Our cities have a firm commitment to fighting pollution, because it is a health issue. However, we need this commitment to be shared by everybody: by the Catalan and Spanish Governments, by the European Union, and by the private sector. As we saw in the Dieselgate scandal, some of those actors showed an unacceptable attitude, further damaging citizens’ health. In this respect, the European Union has not been living up to its responsibility, and therefore we demand the strict and immediate enforcement of pollution level limits (according to 2007 regulations) without further extensions, because the right to well-being cannot be delayed. Additionally, we are asking the Spanish government to stop denying responsibility and instead revise the current taxation relating to diesel to make it the same as for gasoline.”
Regulation 2016/646, introduced in the wake of the “Dieselgate” scandal, mandates the maximum acceptable NOx emissions from diesel-engine vehicles during real driving emissions (RDE) tests. Rather than enforcing the 80 mg/km NOx emission limits agreed by the European Parliament in 2007, the European Commission, under intense lobbying from the auto-manufacturing industry, granted manufacturers time to gradually adapt to the new RDE rules.
From September 2017 for new models and from September 2019 for new vehicles, NOx emissions can legally exceed the 80 mg/km limit by up to 110%. From January 2020 for new models and from January 2021 for new vehicles, NOx emissions can still legally exceed the 80 mg/km limit by up to 50%.
Lawyers representing Paris, Brussels and Madrid, will argue that these emissions limits are what Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo has called “a licence to pollute” and a regression of existing European Environmental law designed to protect public health and improve air quality. The Regulation will be described as a “betrayal of the Paris Agreement” for its failure to transition to clean vehicles needed to curb climate change.
If ultimately successful, the Action would see the 2007 regulations return to force setting maximum NOx limit at 80mg/km, but based on a new on-road test.
The hearing, scheduled for 17 May 2018, will be the first time the European Court of Justice has heard arguments from cities as “concerned persons”, reflecting the growing authority of urban centers as defenders of public health and climate action.
In March 2016, as the Regulation was being debated in the European Commission, the mayors of fourteen cities across the Europe Union appealed to their governments to “prioritise the health of citizens over that of industrial lobbies.” A public petition attracted more than 130,000 signatures. The cities were, Amsterdam, Athens, Barcelona, Brussels, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Valetta, Lisbon, Madrid, Milan, Nicosia, Oslo, Paris, Riga, Rotterdam, Sofia, Stockholm, Warsaw & Vienna.
“The citizens of Paris and cities around the world demand clean air to breathe,” said Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris & Chair of C40.
“It would be a betrayal of the people of Europe that car manufacturers and industrial lobbies can dictate the rules that regulate some of their most polluting products. We will continue to develop measures in Paris to ensure our citizens can breathe clean air, and my fellow mayors across C40 cities will do the same. We need the European Union to support us, not give regulatory protection to air pollution. I am proud to stand beside Mayors of Madrid and Brussels on behalf of millions of people across the great cities of Europe, to say our voices cannot be silenced any longer.”
The joint action of the mayors of Paris, Brussels and Madrid reveals the leading role of cities as the main experts in the problems of citizens and, therefore, the main defenders of their causes,” said Manuela Carmena, Mayor of Madrid.
“Cities have to be a stronghold of conscience. There’s a lot at stake. That is why coherence and courage are so necessary. We are talking about the health and the future, not only of big cities, but of the planet. I hope that this initiative is the first of a long list of local government actions, united to achieve a more sustainable world.”
The ECJ will decide on Thursday if they case will proceed.