Brussels issues Spain final warning over repeated air pollution breaches

European Commission tells five countries to reduce NO2 levels or face possible legal action

Spain has not done enough to reduce air pollution. On Wednesday, the European Commission issued one last warning: if the five member states guilty of continued breaches of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) limits – Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom – fail to take action within two months, “the Commission may decide to take the matter to the Court of Justice of the EU.”

Speed restrictions on the M-30 ring road in Madrid.
Speed restrictions on the M-30 ring road in Madrid.Jaime Villanueva

In Spain’s case, the problem affects the two largest cities, Madrid and Barcelona.

The EC notes that NO2 pollution is “a serious health risk.”

“Persistently high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) caused almost 70,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013, which was almost three times the number of deaths by road traffic accidents in the same year,” reads the press release.

Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said she will ban the most polluting vehicles from the city beginning in 2020

“Member States are required to adopt and implement air-quality plans that set out appropriate measures to bring this situation to an end as soon as possible.”

The warning from Brussels adds fuel to a debate that is already on the political agendas of both Madrid and Barcelona.

Last November, Madrid activated a pollution protocol that reduced speed limits and banned parking in downtown areas for three days. And in late December, for the first time, it introduced alternate-day travel based on license plate numbers, mirroring a common practice in some Latin American cities.

In Barcelona, Mayor Ada Colau has announced that she will ban the most polluting vehicles from the city beginning in 2020. Until then, these cars may be temporarily restricted on days with particularly high ambient air pollution.

Barcelona officials have estimated that 3,500 people die a year due to poor air quality. The city is preparing incentives for owners of contaminating vehicles, such as offering them free public transportation passes for three years if they get rid of a polluting car and refrain from purchasing a new one.

None of these measures will be enough by itself to satisfy EU requirements, although Brussels is aware that action is required at all levels of government.

“While it is up to the Member State authorities to choose the appropriate measures to address exceeding NO2 limits, much more effort is necessary at local, regional and national levels to meet the obligations of EU rules and safeguard public health,” reads the report.

English version by Susana Urra.


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