Another month, another blow to diesel, and this one is big. Following a landmark court ruling, German cities will be allowed to ban older diesel vehicles from some areas. The Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig said the cities of Stuttgart and Duesseldorf could legally ban older, and therefore more polluting, diesel cars from zones worst affected by pollution, the BBC reports.

The top federal court’s ruling came after German states had appealed against bans imposed by local courts in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf. The environmental group DUH brought the cases after about 70 German cities exceeded European Union limits for nitrogen oxides (NOx) last year. This latest ruling sets a precedent for other cities and analysts said it could lead to similar action across Europe.

DUH said it hoped the bans in German cities would end the industry’s “resistance” to refitting older, more-polluting cars to meet the latest EU standards. ClientEarth, an environmental law firm that worked on the case, said the win was “a tremendous result for people’s health in Germany and may have an impact even further afield”.

“This ruling gives long-awaited legal clarity that diesel restrictions are legally permissible and will unavoidably start a domino effect across the country, with implications for our other legal cases,” lawyer Ugo Taddei said.

Should this “cities against diesel” movement spread, there will be big impact on German drivers, with millions being forced to leave their cars at home on days when emissions levels are particularly high. Needless to say, it could also depress the value of diesel cars affected by the ban.

Not everyone drives a new Euro 6 car – in fact, of the 15 million diesel cars on German roads, only 2.7 million meet the latest standards. The market share for diesel vehicles in Germany fell from 48% in 2015 to around 39% last year.

The government, in trying to reassure car owners, insisted that nothing would change right away and stressed that bans were not inevitable. “The court has not issued any driving bans but created clarity about the law. Driving bans can be avoided, and my goal is and will remain that they do not come into force,” said environment minister Barbara Hendricks.

Even chancelor Angela Merkel weighed in, saying the ruling concerned only individual cities. “It’s really not about the entire country and all car owners,” she said.

Seeking to avert bans, German car makers have pledged software improvements for millions of diesel cars and offered trade-in incentives for older models. The German government meanwhile has floated alternatives, such as making public transport free in cities suffering from poor air quality.

Theo Leggett, the BBC’s business correspondent, says that the likelihood now is that the German government will rush to introduce some sort of national policy, to ensure at least some level of consistency across the country.

Over in the UK, from April this year, the government will hike Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) for those registering a new diesel car that does not meet more stringent pollution requirements. The VED hike will force buyers to pay up to £500 extra in the first year of ownership