Angela Merkel has pledged to unlock millions of euros in emergency funds to help clean up air quality in German cities. Authorities meeting at a "diesel summit" in Berlin are hoping to avoid a ban on diesel vehicles.
Germany's government has launched a development fund of €1 billion ($1.2 billion) to cut diesel pollution in urban areas and boost investment in green transport, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday. Around one quarter of the fund will come from German carmakers, foreign companies are not involved.
Speaking at a summit with the federal government, states and municipalities — the second of its kind in recent months — Merkel said the funds would be made available as soon as possible so that local governments could start "tailor made" projects to improve air quality.
"The funds will be available from tomorrow," Merkel said, acknowledging that "time is extremely short" on the issue. The government has said that it wants access to the funds to be as simple as possible, light on bureaucracy. The organization representing German city governments, the Städtetag, voiced skepticism about the speed of funding.
"The difficulty is demanding that municipalities contribute some of the money to most of the plans. That will considerably extend the time period before projects can get started," the president of the Städtetag, Ludwigshafen's Mayor Eva Lohse, said.
The money is to be used for initiatives to make city traffic solutions more environmentally friendly, and to provide more electric charging stations and electric buses.
The federal government is under pressure to meet the European Union's Clean Air standards, introduced in 2010 to limit levels of certain pollutants. According to environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), Berlin and Munich are among 90 cities that could face penalties for exceeding the permitted limits of nitrous oxides (NOx). Overall, nitrous oxide emissions levels are down almost 60 percent compared to 1990 figures, but still in excess of EU targets.
At the same time, authorities are trying to prevent a situation where the courts are forced to ban diesel cars.
Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said the fund was an important step, but warned it was not enough to bring down diesel pollution across the country. She said the onus was on the car industry.
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In August, car manufacturers such as Daimler, VW and BMW said they would overhaul emissions-control software on 5.3 million diesel cars and make their vehicles cleaner. They also pledged to contribute €250 million towards the €1 billion fund.
Gerd Landsberg, head of Germany's association of municipalities (DStGB), told public broadcaster ARD that the money would not be enough to finance long-term projects to increase the number of electric cars on German roads and expand public transport.
"Ultimately we need broad changes in transport policy, it will not be possible to organize this with the 1 billion," he said.
Local governments in a number of European countries are taking steps to phase out cars powered by diesel and petrol as part of an effort to curb emissions.
nm/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa)