Paris Car Free Day Sept 25 1

There will be no more diesel vehicles on the roads of Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City by 2025, if the plans of the respective current mayors are seen out, the BBC reports. The commitments were made in Mexico at a biennial meeting of city leaders and the cities will offer incentives for alternative vehicle use and promote walking and cycling.

But why? It’s not a brand new development. The use of diesel in cars and transport has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as concerns about the impact of diesel fumes on air quality have grown. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that around three million deaths every year are linked to exposure to outdoor air pollution.

The Beeb explains that diesel engines contribute to the problem in two key ways – through the production of particulate matter (PM) and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Very fine soot PM can penetrate the lungs and can contribute to cardiovascular illness and death.

NOx can help form ground level ozone and this can exacerbate breathing difficulties, even for people without a history of respiratory problems. Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) can cause or exacerbate a number of health conditions, such as inflammation of the lungs (which can trigger asthma and bronchitis) and increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Diesel vehicles are the biggest contributor to high levels of NO2 in Europe.

VW jetta TDI US-spec

We often think of Europe’s cold, crisp air as clean (relative to our own air quality), but the European Environment Agency (EEA) has warned that air pollution is causing around 467,000 premature deaths in the continent every year.

Urban folks are at high risk, with around 85% exposed to fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) at levels deemed harmful by the WHO. These ultra fine particles (less than 0.0025 mm in diameter) are too small to be detected by our eyes or nose, but can cause or aggravate heart disease, asthma and lung cancer.

“It is no secret that in Mexico City, we grapple with the twin problems of air pollution and traffic. By expanding alternative transportation options like our Bus Rapid Transport and subway systems, while also investing in cycling infrastructure, we are working to ease congestion in our roadways and our lungs,” said Mexico City mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera.

“Our city is implementing a bold plan – we will progressively ban the most polluting vehicles from the roads, helping Paris citizens with concrete accompanying measures. Our ambition is clear and we have started to roll it out: we want to ban diesel from our city, following the model of Tokyo, which has already done the same,” said Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo.

exhaust-smoke-a1

The French capital has already taken some steps to cut the impact of diesel cars and trucks, which currently dominate France ahead of petrol engines. Vehicles registered before 1997 have already been banned from entering the city, with restrictions increasing each year until 2020. Once every month, the famous Champs-Élysées is closed to traffic, while very recently a 3km section of the right bank of the Seine, which was once a two-lane motorway, has been pedestrianised.

These measures are effective. BBC‘s report points out that in the Spanish city of Barcelona, extra journeys by publicly available bicycles have reduced CO2 emissions by over 9,000 tonnes – the equivalent of more than 34 million km driven by an average vehicle.

The bad reputation diesel – previously promoted by carmakers and governments for being gentle on CO2 emissions – has been getting lately (VW’s Dieselgate emissions cheating scandal poured fuel to the fire) as well as these latest commitments by cities will force the hands of carmakers to move away from diesel. The European brands are particularly invested in oil burners, and will have to shift strategies, if they haven’t already done so.