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Germany's Top Court: Cities Can Ban Diesel Cars to Fight Air Pollution

Climate
The Mercedes-Benz Museum in Untertürkheim with the city of Stuttgart behind. Daimler

German cities can ban older diesel vehicles from its roads to combat air pollution, the country's highest federal administrative court ruled Tuesday.

The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig has allowed the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf to legally ban the most polluting diesel cars from zones worst affected by pollution, paving the way for other cities to issue similar bans.


"This ruling gives long-awaited legal clarity that diesel restrictions are legally permissible and will unavoidably start a domino effect across the country," Ugo Taddei, an environmental lawyer from ClientEarth who worked on the case, told CNN Money. "Putting traffic restrictions on the most polluting vehicles is the quickest and most effective way to protect people from harmful air pollution."

The ban was opposed by the country's $616-billion-a-year automotive industry and Chancellor Angela Merkel's government which recently considered offering free public transportation in some of its most polluted cities to reduce road traffic and emissions from private vehicles.

Environmentalists cheered Tuesday's decision, as it could spell the beginning of the end of the polluting car.

"This ruling is a victory for clean air, and shows what's possible when public health is the priority," Niklas Schinerl, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace Germany said. "Across Europe, decisions like these are making it clear that diesel cars are on the way out."

"It makes no sense to invest in a new diesel now, because it's only a matter of time before even the newest diesels are either banned or priced out of cities," Schinerl added. "Instead, dirty diesel cars will be replaced by cleaner, greener electric cars, improved cycling infrastructure and sustainable transport that's good for health and the environment."

In recent years, countries around the world—including China, India, France, Britain and Norway—have announced intentions to phase out gasoline and diesel cars.

Diesel-engine cars have been falling out of favor ever since the 2015 Volkswagen "dieselgate" scandal, in which the automaker manipulated the systems on 11 million TDI diesel automobiles to cheat emissions tests. VW was forced to pay billions in fines and has since announced plans to electrify much of its fleet. Other carmakers, including fellow German brand Daimler, have since faced their own emissions scandals.

Reuters reported that shares of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW dropped after the court ruling, trading down 1.4 percent, 0.3 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

There are roughly 15 million diesel cars on Germany's roads, and the new diesel bans could majorly impact resale prices.

"While it is unclear whether and how the cities in Germany will proceed with their bans, the simple fact that they have won the legal right for doing this is likely to shift consumers' buying behavior towards petrol, hybrid and electric vehicles," said Frederik Dahlmann, an associate professor of Strategy and Sustainability at Warwick Business School.

"At the same time, those reliant on older diesel-powered vehicles will feel discriminated against, particularly when they cannot afford to change cars," Dahlmann noted. "Ultimately, only integrated transport and energy policies that consider all sources and uses of fuels and mobility needs will be effective in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions."

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