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Cars and Transportation

Germany's 'Mickey Mouse' diesel summit

August 15, 2017

The head of Environmental Action Germany has called the results from the country's recent diesel summit "Mickey Mouse policies." His consumer organization is going to court in an effort to enforce driving bans.

Pollution warning on a road in Stuttgart
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Murat

Rarely has Environmental Action Germany (DUH) attracted so many people to its press conference. The hall in Berlin is full Tuesday, and it is no wonder. DUH head Jürgen Resch and the environmentally friendly consumer organization are after automobile manufacturers and the German government. He seems determined to pursue his quest.

At the end of July, the DUH took its case to the administrative court of Stuttgart and managed to have authorities ban diesel vehicles from the road if they did not comply with the strict EU emission limits for nitrogen oxides and fine dust - most of them do not. Automobile manufacturers, it turns out, have been using software tricks to conceal their actual emissions.

Resch and his colleagues have filed similar law suits in 16 German cities. Now, he says, "we want to be able to breathe freely, and we need diesel driving bans, unless the vehicles are retrofitted and are clean."

Then he lists the horrible figures: Over 10,000 people die annually from the consequences of the bad air - mostly in Germany's cities. This means three times more deaths are caused by harmful emissions compared to motor vehicle accidents. Hundreds of thousands of people apparently fall ill.

Jürgen Resch at the diesel summit in Berlin
Resch and the DUH are fighting to get diesel cars off the road in GermanyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

'Mickey Mouse policies'

Politicians come off badly in Resch's opinion. Government officials and carmakers met two weeks ago in Berlin for a diesel summit, hosted by Minister of the Environment Barbara Hendricks and Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt, where they agreed to reduce harmful emissions by upgrading the software in 5 million motor vehicles. Companies are trying to create incentives for drivers to trade in older diesel cars for newer, "cleaner" cars. Resch says these are "Mickey Mouse policies" that may cut harmful emissions by 5 percent at best.

"[The summit] was not about the health of citizens, it was not about the environment, nor was it about climate protection," said Resch. "It was only about backing automobile manufacturers."

The summit also decided to set up a 500 million euro ($590 million) fund provided by businesses and the government, to help cities in their transition to clean vehicles, especially in the local transport sector.

"This is a kind of family fund jointly provided by the federal government and the automotive industry," said Resch. "I find it absurd that the government provides the same amount of funds as the industry in total, but ultimately allows the conditions to be dictated by the industry."

A diesel warning sign
Could diesel cars be forbidden on German roads in the near future?Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Murat

'All hollow words'

Refitting the cars, which would cost 1,500 to 2,000 euros per car, would help, according to Resch. But experts estimate that it would cost carmakers billions of euros. Resch does not see the point in the next planned diesel summit, announced by Chancellor Angela Merkel, calling it "all hollow words."

The only thing Resch likes is the fixed quota for electric cars. The quota is the subject of a heated political debate. However, according to Resch, this will not help right away.

"They always talk about the future," he said. "It does not have an effect on the air."

Thurau Jens Kommentarbild App
Jens Thurau Jens Thurau is a senior political correspondent covering Germany's environment and climate policies.@JensThurau