First European Diesel summit puts dirty fleet high on the agenda

Three years after the Dieselgate scandal was exposed, there are still 43 million highly polluting diesel cars on European roads. As EU industry commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska (pictured) said at the first European Diesel Summit in Brussels last week, ‘the story isn’t over’. The timing couldn’t have been better to gather policy makers, cities, health experts, consumer groups and green NGOs from across Europe to discuss concrete solutions given that a special ministerial meeting has been convened by the European Commission for 27 November.

Recent publications provided further strong arguments for bold action. Recent data from the European Environment Agency shows that 79,000 premature deaths are caused each year by nitrogen oxides in Europe. The main source of this pollutant are diesel engines.

To protect their citizens, more and more cities in the EU have started to introduce low-emission zones (LEZ), where only cleaner cars are allowed. There are currently 250 low emission zones for cars in 12 EU member states, a new briefing by T&E has shown. And two thirds of citizens support such measures to tackle air pollution, a recent Ipsos poll commissioned by T&E showed.

The survey also found that 69% of EU citizens said it is ‘not too likely’ (31%) or ‘not at all likely’ (38%) that the next car they will buy or lease will be diesel, mainly because of concerns over air pollution in their cities.

The first European Diesel Summit presented and discussed solutions to the dirty diesel fleet on Europe’s roads, summed up in a joint summit declaration signed by cities, policy makers and civil society – including T&E, one of the event’s organisers. It urged member states and the EU to coordinate the recall and fixing of vehicles on a European level, using independent real-world testing to verify emission performance.

Without such a European solution, drivers from Western Europe will continue to ditch their dirty cars in view of an increasing number of city bans. These older vehicles usually end up in Central and Eastern Europe. In 2017 alone, 350,000 of these dirty vehicles were exported to Poland, emitting more than 12.5 times the allowed limits. This shifts the air pollution problem from west to east instead of solving it. The summit declaration said authorities need to require a fix of these vehicles or prevent the sale and export of unfixed, highly polluting vehicles.

During the conference it was also revealed that the German Federal Motor Transport Agency sent letters to owners of 1.5 million drivers of old cars calling on them to use premia offered by manufacturers in order to buy newer diesel cars. The German government thus effectively became the advertising agency of BMW, Volkswagen and Daimler, even providing contact details of the three companies in the head of the letter.