Earlier this year, the European Commission took six EU countries to court. The offence: breaking the law on air pollution. In Germany, the “car capital” of Stuttgart—one of the most polluted cities in the country—continuously reached levels of 82 micrograms of nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre of air, more than double the EU’s allowed limit. Covered in a blanket of smog, Stuttgart is now referred to as Germany’s “Beijing” because of its air pollution. With over 60 days a year seriously threatening citizens’ health, the courts have taken a stand and banned diesel cars in downtown areas. Let’s see what this means for the car-heavy city and how this decision will affect air quality, as well as Stuttgart’s strong automotive industry.-Bruno De Man
Cure for cleaner air
For the past decade, Stuttgart’s air quality has been the worst in Germany. Along with other German cities like Leipzig, Stuttgart continues to exceed the standards set by the EU law, which bans cities from reaching concentrations of more than 40 micrograms per cubic meter more than 35 days a year. According to a New York Times article, experts have concluded that “diesel engines emit small particles and nitrogen dioxide that have been linked to cancer and more than 12,000 of premature deaths in Germany.” In a city that’s home to Daimler, Porsche and Bosch—the world’s largest car-part manufacturer—where one in five jobs is in the automotive sector, the recent decision to ban diesel cars from driving downtown is quite a hefty one for Stuttgart. This isn’t the first city to instil a driving ban on vehicles, either, following the lead of capitals like Paris, which banned half of all cars on the road on alternating days, but the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association still claims this is “the wrong way to solve a problem that arises in very particular locations under very particular conditions.”
The city already attempted to decrease smog by introducing Germany’s first air pollution alert, encouraging citizens to carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Stuttgart’s mayor, Fritz Kuhn, now proposes that the only way the city can continue to build on its automotive legacy is by producing clean cars. In a New York Times article, Kuhn, who drives a Daimler-produced electric Smart car, is quoted saying, “If Germany wants to continue to dominate the car industry, it needs to become a champion of electric cars and sustainable mobility and autonomous cars.” In addition to looking to smart solutions to modernize the automotive industry, Stuttgart is also launching sustainable solutions like car sharing programmes (with car2go offering all-electric models) to tackle air pollution in a more effective manner so Stuttgart can continue to reign as Germany’s “car capital,” while improving environmental conditions for citizens in the process.