1 Nov 22

European Commission to make life tougher for diesel fleets

Diesel-powered light commercial vehicle fleets face significantly tougher operating conditions in urban areas, after the European Commission published a series of proposed revisions to its Ambient Air Quality Directives.

The Commission wants to see a 60% cut in emissions of particulate matter (PM2.5) by 2030 to improve air quality. It says most Europeans live in cities where air is too polluted to be healthy, and says air pollution is a leading cause of chronic diseases, such as strokes, cancer and diabetes.

The Commission had already put European Union member states on course to achieve zero air pollution by 2050.

New emissions target

But the interim target to reduce the annual limit for PM2.5 from 25 µg/m³ to 10 µg/m³ in 2030 is new, and will force national and local governments to take action via more accurate monitoring and modelling of air quality, as well as stricter enforcement of rules. The objective aligns the EU more closely to World Health Organisation recommendations.

The target will hit light commercial vehicle operators; official sales figures indicate that fewer than 3.5% of new vans are electric, with diesel accounting for the lion's share. Electric cars accounted for just under 10% of all new car sales across the EU in the first half of this year, but their penetration of the company car market is much higher in some markets, with leasing companies reporting that dpeending on local tax regulations, up to 50% of their new car orders are electric.

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, said: “Our health depends on our environment. An unhealthy environment has direct and costly consequences for our health. Each year, hundreds of thousands of Europeans die prematurely and many more suffer from heart and lung diseases or pollution-induced cancers. The longer we wait to reduce this pollution, the higher the costs to society. By 2050, we want our environment to be free of harmful pollutants. That means we need to step up action today.”

Fleets were already facing a ban on the acquisition of new diesel vehicles from 2035, but the new proposals will stiffen the resolve of authorities to combat air pollution.

Legal action and compensation

The Commission’s proposals do not detail specific measures that authorities have to take to achieve the new air quality standards, but they do say that people whose health is damaged by air pollution that exceeds the new air quality rules will have the right to be compensated.

“They will… have the right to be represented by non-governmental organisation through collective actions for damage compensation,” said the Commission. “The proposal will also bring more clarity on access to justice, effective penalties, and better public information on air quality.”

300,000 premature deaths

The Commission said its new measures will deliver a 75% reduction in the number of deaths attributed to air pollution within the EU. It calculates that nearly 300,000 Europeans die prematurely each year from exposure to particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide and ozone, and suggests that low- and zero-emission zones are one of the best ways for cities to reduce emissions from road traffic.

The Clean Cities Campaign (CCC) welcomed the Commission’s proposals but said they should have gone further to align completely with WHO guidelines.

Barbara Stoll, Director of CCC, said: “Setting air pollution limits that are not aligned with the latest health science is like suggesting people keep smoking but stick to light cigarettes.”

Low emission zones

The CCC highlighted the success of London’s low-emission zones in achieving WHO limits for nitrogen dioxide, and from 2025 other European cities will follow. Several cities in the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, will impose zero emission zones for logistics vehicles; and Paris will introduce a zero emission zone from 2030.

Alex Keynes, Clean Vehicles Manager at Transport & Environment, said policymakers still had time to raise their air quality standards to match WHO recommendations.

“It would help to incentivise these kinds of policies at the local level which would accelerate the shift to zero emission transport and clear air in cities,” he said. 

Image: Shutterstock

Authored by: Jonathan Manning