Three years for veto on most polluting cars to reach 5.5 million Catalans

A total of 65 municipalities commit to deploying low-emission zones

2 min
A sign of the Low Emission Zone in Barcelona

BarcelonaThe veto on the most polluting cars in urban areas is to be extended (and fairly quickly) in the next few years to a large part of the Catalan municipalities. Towns with over 20,000 inhabitants will have to have a low-emission zone by 2025 to improve the quality of the air citizens breathe. The details, i.e., the minimum requirements that the zone will have to meet, will soon be unified by the Catalan Government, but the commitment to deploying them was sealed this morning by 65 municipalities out of the 67 with over 20,000 inhabitants (Esplugues de Llobregat and Sant Pere de Ribes have stayed out, for the moment) under the agreement to improve air quality in Catalonia. The affected municipalities have a total of 5,450,662 inhabitants.

The state climate change law already establishes the obligation for cities with over 50,000 inhabitants to establish these areas by 2023 at the latest. Now Catalonia, via this pact, first reported by El Periódico, assumes that it wants to go further, although it sets the horizon of 2025 to have them in place. Barcelona and some of its neighbouring towns have already had a low-emission zone for a couple of years, which it has been rolling out progressively, while cities like Sant Cugat del Vallès more recently launched theirs. With this Friday's agreement, this three-year plan will be more general throughout the country.

While the details are thrashed out (which cars can or can't access, what times of day the limitations will be in place), the Government has promised municipalities financial aid to help them establish and roll out the projects. This year, €4.5m from the climate fund will be used, originating from the money collected through the CO2 tax on vehicle emissions. From 2023 onwards, the aid line would be €500,000 per year.

The Generalitat's idea is that low-emission zones work and are as identifiable for citizens as blue pay-to-park zones, which, with some differences between municipalities (for example, coastal resorts) are similar and clearly recognisable, according to Government sources.

A 15% reduction in nitrogen oxides

The deal between the 65 largest Catalan municipalities also includes emission reduction targets: by 2025 pollution by nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate pollutants (both PM10 and PM2.5) will have to be reduced by 15% compared to 2019 levels throughout the country. The two towns that have not signed the pact can join at any time. In fact, Esplugues de Llobregat is awaiting the result of a consultation initiated precisely to ask about the low-emission zone.

Improving the quality of air breathed in urban areas is becoming increasingly critical as scientific studies reinforce evidence of a link between excess pollution and health problems and premature deaths. In fact, half a year ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) lowered even further the pollution maximums it considers safe to ensure health protection.

While European legislation stipulates that the maximum values for nitrogen oxide allowed are 40 ug/m³ as an annual average, the WHO recommends lowering this level to 10 ug/m³ of NO2. The agency has also reduced tolerance to other pollutants such as particulate pollutants (PM10 and PM2.5), which, due to their size, easily enter the body, the bloodstream and in some cases reach organs such as the lungs.

The Barcelona conurbation is has the sixth highest number of deaths caused by poor air quality in Europe, according to an ISGlobal ranking of 858 European cities. Every year, 1,500 lives could be saved if NO2 levels were those recommended by the WHO, a situation that is even worse with microparticulate pollution (PM2.5), which causes more than 2,200 deaths a year in the Barcelona area alone, according to ISGlobal.