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  • France moves ‘beyond diesel’ with voluntary sticker scheme

    France has launched its new air pollution categorisation scheme for cars, with a strong emphasis in favour of electric vehicles over diesel. But the effectiveness of the scheme could be limited by the fact that it is only voluntary, and it is uncertain how many benefits will result for those with the cleanest cars.

    The scheme was promised last November when the prime minister, Manuel Valls, announced that France’s long-standing encouragement for diesel vehicles had been a mistake and would end. Valls said there would be a new identification system to rank cars by the amount of pollution they emit, which would make it possible for local authorities to limit city access for the most polluting cars, for example in low-emissions zones (LEZ).

    The scheme was unveiled on 2 June by France’s energy and sustainable development minister Ségolène Royal. It will mean a car can carry a sticker showing it falls into one of seven colour-coded categories of emissions (ranked 1-6 for petrol/diesel and a separate category for electric).

    The idea is that the cleanest cars can get various privileges, such as special parking areas and priority lanes in urban areas. But the fact that the scheme is optional means there is uncertainty about how widespread it will become and how many councils will make use of it. In its report on Royal’s announcement, the French newspaper Le Monde said: ‘The number of advantages that will fall to owners of non-polluting vehicles is conditional on rules imposed by each municipality, and certain mayors have already announced that they don’t want to install, for example, zones reserved for clean vehicles.’

    T&E clean air policy officer, Julia Poliscanova, said: ‘This is an excellent initiative to encourage the implementation of low-emissions zones – but it will only be successful if the drivers of the least polluting vehicles are given genuine encouragement and dirty diesels are banned.

    ‘At present the voluntary scheme is not driving the changes which are needed. We welcome the steps being taken in Paris to adopt the scheme for its LEZ from 2016 and ban the most polluting category 6 vehicles initially, potentially going up to category 3 by 2020. More cities need to follow suit. ’

    The new scheme has been criticised by car makers for its favourable treatment of electric cars over oil-based fuels, and for favouring petrol over diesel. But Royal said: ‘We have to send a message of moving beyond diesel, just as we are sending a message of moving beyond petrol. The objective is not to point the finger at owners of polluting vehicles but to encourage them to opt for less polluting vehicles.’

    The scheme will come into effect in experimental mode in September, and become fully operational in January. France has been battling against increasing air pollution, and a long episode of pollution in March made Paris briefly the world’s most polluted city.