The low-emission zone, a necessary tool

2 min
A sign of the Low Emission Zone in Barcelona

It is difficult to understand the ultimate meaning of Catalonia's High Court's ruling annulling Barcelona's low emission zone (LEZ), in a city with very high pollution rates and which has been in the European spotlight over this issue for some years now. In fact, the Catalan capital is one of the European cities with the highest vehicle traffic density. The High Court should not ignore that the European courts have opened a sanctioning procedure against Spain for the fact that both Barcelona (and several cities in its metropolitan area) and Madrid exceed in a "systematic and continuous" way the limits on nitrogen dioxide emissions (NO2). The LEZ that is now endangered –although not suspended, since there is room for judicial appeals– was a response to this justified and logical European pressure. Moreover, the European Environment Agency has warned that the LEZ is not enough. All this should be known by the judges of the Catalonia's High Court, whose ruling contradicts this environmental and judicial reality at European level.

The global fight to curb climate change –and to improve public health– should be considered a superior, preeminent and unquestionable social good. This is no joke: the survival of humanity on planet Earth is at stake. The LEZ is a modest, lukewarm measure, almost a patch. Much more radicalism and forcefulness would be needed if this crucial game is to be won. Are the judges who overturned the regulation aware of this? If, in fact, there were mistakes in the reports on which the measure was based and discrimination in its application (affecting the most vulnerable population), it would have been possible to move towards a ruling that called for specific corrections, or even more exceptions, but which at the same time protected the spirit and general application of the regulation. The fact is, moreover, that both at the state and Catalan levels, the respective governments want to move in the same direction with the approval and roll-out of low emission zones in more urban areas.

The High Court ruling, therefore, goes against the spirit of the times, against the collective effort to reduce CO2 emissions, the main agent of the climate crisis we are experiencing on a global scale. Although this is in no way its intention, it is a sentence that plays into the hands of the climate change denialist minority. Unwittingly, out of a desire to guarantee individual rights, a public policy that responds to a higher European mandate and that has broad public support is being questioned. It is right and necessary to attend to, listen to and take into account the rights of the affected minority; this minority, however, is also a victim of pollution and the climate crisis. It is to be hoped, therefore, that the appeals against this ruling will prosper and that, at the same time, the environmental policies of the future will be shielded before the courts with solid studies and reports and with social measures that compensate the most vulnerable. The most affected cannot be those with the least resources, and we must compensate for the reduction in the use of cars with more and better public transport.