Low emission zone, it is necessary for cities to breathe clean air Listen to this article

Image of a pollution beret in Madrid on February 10, 2022.
Image of a pollution beret in Madrid on February 10, 2022.Jesus Helin (Europa Press)

Barcelona and Madrid have been suffering from chronic pollution problems for more than 20 years, every day, the air we need to breathe, in addition to episodes of pollution. Between 50% and 70% is caused by traffic. A problem that has no unique or magical solution. Low Emission Zones (ZBEs) are one of the most widely used systems in Europe: they limit circulation to the vehicles that pollute the most. To differentiate this, Euro standards that define emission levels are used to homologate cars whose demand is growing rapidly.

The year 2020 imprisonment showed cities with clean air, and allowed them to know how much they should reduce pollution. For nitrogen dioxide, 48% in Barcelona and 57% in Madrid.

Barcelona’s decision on the ZBE indicates that it does not respect the principle of proportion, which is true, but not in the direction it points. Its proportionality is insufficient to be able to achieve the air quality defined by the World Health Organization and the European Union: both Barcelona and Madrid must be more demanding and ambitious. The ZBE of Paris is 490 square kilometers and that of London is 360 square kilometers.

The adoption of ZBE in Barcelona and Madrid has been known since 2017. One effect of this is upgrading the circulating fleet to cleaner vehicles. Convenient, as Spain is the third country in Europe with the oldest mobile fleet. Renewables reduce atmospheric pollutants, the main objective sought, but also reduce CO₂ emissions, which is a positive in the event of a climate emergency.

From a legal perspective, ZBEs may face two rights: the right to health versus mobility. It should be noted that it is well demonstrated that air pollution affects health. On the other hand, the right of mobility is only for the most polluting vehicles, at certain times. And there are alternative mobility systems and accessories to upgrade them.

But the most important thing is that the vehicle has no right to circulate, because the pollution emitted from it affects the rest of the citizens. LEZs do not create social inequalities, the benefits of improving air quality are universal and they reduce health costs. The right to which priority should be given is very clear: health.

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Jose M. Baldasano He is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia.

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