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Germany ups funding to cities to improve air quality

December 3, 2018

With EU diesel bans looming over cities and municipalities, Angela Merkel approved new funds to help improve air quality standards. But on hardware retro-fitting, Merkel's government said it could not yet provide a plan.

Angela Merkel in a meeting with cities and municipalities
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B.v. Jutrczenka

The German government agreed on Monday to provide additional funding to cities, in an effort to tackle air pollution linked to diesel vehicle emissions.

The decision came after a meeting dubbed the "diesel summit" between Chancellor Angela Merkel and representatives from cities and municipalities.

German cities are currently facing court-imposed bans on older diesel-powered vehicles. This stemmed from legal action taken by environmentalists to enforce EU regulations on air quality.

To address the issue, the German government established the "Cleaner Air" program, in place from 2017 to 2020, to cut emissions from municipal vehicles. The German automotive sector is also making a financial contribution.

Half a billion in fresh funds

The funding agreed to in Monday's summit will increase the "Cleaner Air" program from €1 billion to 1.5 billion ($1.7 billion). An additional €432 million will be allocated to retro-fitting smaller trucks.

Read more: Older German diesels face reckoning

The EU's air quality directive mandates an annual average limit of 40 micrograms nitrogen dioxide per cubic meter. In 2017, 65 towns and cities had exceeded the 40 microgram limit, with 15 of them registering 50 micrograms of the toxic gas.

Merkel said after the meeting that her government's support programs should make it possible for cities to come within the limit "in a very short time."

Read more: Opinion: Germany's courts take the wheel on diesel bans

Retro-fitting unresolved

Municipalities have asked the government to implement hardware retro-fits to help clean up older diesel cars, a process that would require fitting more effective exhaust filters in the vehicles. But Merkel's government made no concrete proposals on the issue during Monday's meeting.

Retro-fitting diesels remains a thorny issue, particularly over who will foot the large bill. Cities and environmental groups are demanding that the automotive industry be the one to take on the major share of the burden. 

Read more: Opinion: The war on automobiles is a war on freedom

The Mayor of the city of Mainz Michael Ebling told AFP that, in the wake of the diesel scandal, "the federal government is not coming off the defensive" and called for the auto industry to "pay up."

Drivers want to get VW cars retrofitted

A long road ahead

German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer said his ministry would present guidelines on manufacturing improvements by the end of 2018.

Scheuer added that following the release of those guidelines, it would take some six more months to develop hardware retro-fits. These improvements would then need to be approved by the Federal Motor Transport Authority.

In the meantime, Merkel told municipalities that talks would continue, with another meeting set to be scheduled before the parliamentary summer break next year.

The debate over air quality in German cities and its link to diesel cars began in 2015, when German automaker Volkswagen admitted it had installed software that cheated emissions tests in diesel vehicles.

jcg/jm (AFP, dpa)

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