The Climate Change Law approved by the Spanish government in May 2021 to create low emission zones (ZBE) in cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, has been put on hold due to political imperatives, particularly the municipal elections on May 28.
The law mandated 149 municipalities to create low-emission zones by December 31, 2022. However, by that date, only ten cities had complied with the law, including Madrid and Barcelona.
Since January 2023, no new cities have created low-emission zones. Instead of launching information and awareness campaigns to combat the unpopularity of restricting traffic, the government and mayors have engaged in demanding an extension, while the Ministry of Ecological Transition assured that the guidelines were sufficient.
The result of the delays has been disappointing, and half a year after the legal deadline, almost no city has a low emission zone. Although parties generally agree on the need to create them, ecologists, municipal technicians, and business associations agree that low-emission zones will not arrive until after the elections. The lack of penalties and enforcement from the Ministry of Ecological Transition, combined with the reluctance of local administrations to restrict traffic, has resulted in no progress towards low-emission zones.
Cristian Quílez, head of Transport and Mobility at the Ecology and Development Foundation (Ecodes), a non-profit organisation that has been monitoring the non-incorporation of the cities obliged by law to create a zone of low emissions, said "There has been neglect by all the local administrations and the Ministry for a purely political issue."
The only way to 'force' municipalities to restrict traffic in some areas is to use the 1,500 million euro EU Recovery Fund, which Spain is obliged to spend on creating low-emission zones.
In December, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility, and the Urban Agenda distributed 1,000 million euros and last month awarded another 500 million. Still, in most cases, the city councils avoided revealing how they would invest them. For example, Zaragoza and Valencia still do not have the zones active. In the Aragonese capital, they have been limited without cameras to control access or fines, while in Valencia, they are still studying where to put the cameras that will record the infractions.
In the meantime, the city council of Granada has presented what their ZBE will be like, with a PowerPoint where they directly say that the deadline to do so is the end of 2023, one year after what the law says. The delays mean that the restrictions and fines that come with low-emission zones will not be enforced during the elections, which are only a few weeks away.
Quilez claimed that “It is a matter that will be resolved with the elections, what most of the city councils have done has been to postpone it due to the unpopularity that it can generate, although we believe that it could have been counteracted if it had been explained (to the citizens) throughout the year.”
In addition to the lack of enforcement of the Climate Change Law, there is also a lack of coordination and consistency between different municipalities in their efforts to reduce emissions. Some cities have implemented low-emission zones with stricter regulations, while others have only implemented partial measures such as traffic restrictions on certain days or times. This lack of uniformity creates confusion and uncertainty for drivers, making it difficult for them to know what to expect when travelling between different cities.
Moreover, there is a growing concern among environmental groups that the delay in implementing low-emission zones will have a detrimental impact on public health, particularly in areas with high levels of air pollution. According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths in Europe each year. The longer municipalities delay implementing measures to reduce emissions, the more people will be exposed to harmful pollutants.
Despite these challenges, there is still hope that progress can be made in reducing emissions and improving air quality. In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the urgent need to address climate change, and many cities have taken steps to reduce emissions and promote sustainable transport. There are also new technologies and innovations being developed that could help to reduce emissions from vehicles, such as electric and hydrogen-powered vehicles, and advances in public transportation systems.
Ultimately, it will require a concerted effort from governments, businesses, and citizens to make meaningful progress in reducing emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change. The delay in implementing low-emission zones is just one example of the challenges that must be overcome in order to achieve a more sustainable future, but it is a reminder of the urgency of the situation and the need for action.
September 26, 2023
September 22, 2023