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Air pollution linked to half million premature deaths in Europe

Air quality in Europe has nonetheless improved in recent years due to better regulations and technology. Environmental officials said the results indicate its time to double down on cutting air pollution. Air quality across Europe has improved but remains an "invisible killer" that causes nearly a half million premature deaths each year, the European Environment Agency said in an annual reportreleased Monday. Air pollution continues to remain above EU and World Health Organization (WHO) limits in large parts of Europe, the data collected in 2016 from 2,500 measuring stations showed. About 422,000 premature deaths in 41 European countries were caused by tiny particulate matter known as PM2.5 in 2015, of which 391,000 were in the 28-member EU, the report said. "Air pollution is an invisible killer and we need to step up our efforts to address the causes. In terms of air pollution, road transport emissions are often more harmful than those from other sources, as these happen at ground level and tend to occur in cities, close to people," said EEA chief Hans Bruyninckx. At the same time, stricter air quality standards and technological improvements across Europe have resulted in the number of premature deaths per year due to PM2.5 being slashed by a half a million since 1990. "It shows us that air policy does work, but it also reminds us that we need to make it work even better to achieve clean air across Europe, for all citizens," said EU Commissioner for Environment Karmenu Vella Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) pollution from vehicles was tied to another 79,000 premature deaths across 41 European countries in 2015. Ground level ozone (O3) was responsible for another 16,400 premature deaths. Short and long-term exposure to air pollution has been linked to heart disease, stroke, cancer and respiratory problems. Maternal exposure to air pollution is associated with negative impacts on fertility, pregnancy, newborns and children. Air pollution can also have adverse impact on ecosystems. European governments and automakers are under pressure to take action to improve air quality, with a number of states and cities moving to phase out or ban combustible vehicles and diesel. The release of the EEA report came the same day as UN heath agency said in a separate study that globally an estimated 600,000 children under the age of 15 die every year from respiratory problems associated with air pollution. A stunning 93 percent of children, or 1.8 billion, are exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines, the report said. Children in low- and middle-income countries are particularly impacted by indoor and outdoor air pollution, the report said.

Air quality in Europe has nonetheless improved in recent years due to better regulations and technology. Environmental officials said the results indicate its time to double down on cutting air pollution. Air quality across Europe has improved but remains an “invisible killer” that causes nearly a half million premature deaths each year, the European Environment Agency said in an annual ... Read More »

German court allows city ban on diesel cars

Germany's top administrative court has ruled that it is legal for cities to ban diesel cars. The government opposes the bans, but is under pressure from the EU to do more to combat air pollution. Germany's Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled on Tuesday that cities may be permitted to put driving bans in place for diesel vehicles. The ruling does not determine whether the bans will be implemented, but rather that German states, cities and communities have the right to impose them to maintain air pollution limits without needing federal legislation. Read more: Move is on to ban diesel cars from cities Environmental Action Germany (DUH), the environmental and consumer watchdog organization that first brought the case, praised the court's decision, calling it a "great day for clean air in Germany." Tuesday's decision concerned two earlier court rulings in Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, the capital cities of the German states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia, where air pollution massively exceeds allowable levels. DUH initially sued both cities, saying they hadn't done enough to combat emissions. The court in Stuttgart said driving bans were the "most effective" means to improve air quality and safeguard health in urban areas, while the Dusseldorf court found the bans had to be "seriously examined." Read more: Can free public transport really reduce pollution? Berlin: Bans are 'avoidable' The German government is hoping to avoid the driving bans, saying that it would be possible to reduce air pollution in urban zones without banning older diesel cars. "The court has not issued any driving bans but created clarity about the law. Driving bans can be avoided, and my goal is and will remain that they do not come into force," German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said following the court's decision. Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that the bans, should cities choose to carry them out, wouldn't affect all drivers in Germany, but said the government would discuss with urban regions and municipalities on how to proceed. "This concerns individual cities where more needs to be done, but it's not really about the entire area of Germany and all car owners," Merkel said. German drivers anxious over bans Besides the German government, the country's influential car industry also opposes diesel driving bans. Millions of German drivers and businesses have also been anxiously awaiting the court's decision, with many concerned about their disrupted driving routes and a possible devaluation of their vehicles. Read more: Will taxpayers foot the bill for Dieselgate? Still, facing possible legal action from the European Union over the Germany's air quality, the German government is preparing alternatives. The Transport Ministry could update traffic regulations to include an option for cities to impose diesel bans on certain routes later this year.

Germany’s top administrative court has ruled that it is legal for cities to ban diesel cars. The government opposes the bans, but is under pressure from the EU to do more to combat air pollution. Germany’s Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig ruled on Tuesday that cities may be permitted to put driving bans in place for diesel vehicles. The ruling ... Read More »

The death of diesel? What the German court verdict could mean

Germany’s top administrative court has paved the way for potential bans on diesel cars in cities. Does this ultimately mean the death of diesel? Or can the beloved diesel engine adapt and survive? Diesel-guzzling car lovers need not panic just yet — you can still drive your beloved set of wheels home this evening, wherever you are. But Tuesday's ruling by Germany's top administrative court in Leipzig that diesel bans in cities are legally permissible could have deep consequences for millions of drivers and businesses in Germany and the economically critical automobile industry as a whole. While any eventual diesel bans will be limited to certain vehicles, places and scenarios at first, this ruling could ultimately prove to be a big nail in the coffin of a fuel that has powered Germans and Europeans for the best part of a century. Diesel in Germany: A potted history An American resident, long since used to that country's preference for gasoline (petrol) cars, might be surprised to learn that around one third of the more than 45 million cars on German roads are powered by diesel. The journey of diesel in its German motherland and in Europe as a whole has been remarkable. After decades of modest popularity, the diesel boom took off fully in the 1990s when technological developments such as turbo-charged direct fuel injection systems greatly improved performance and softened diesel's dirty image. Read more: Germany's air pollution: Clean up or pay up? Then in the late 1990s, European governments eager to reduce their CO2 emissions began to spend billions subsidizing diesel, as it emits far less CO2 than petrol. As well as that, car tax on diesel vehicles became far cheaper than that on petrol cars. Cheaper and far more fuel efficient, diesel became a go-to fuel for drivers in Europe. In 1990, less than 10 percent of new German cars were powered by diesel. By 2000, it was 30 percent. By 2007, it was 47.8 percent. Growing concerns over diesel's severe effects on public health, through nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate emissions, didn't seem to matter back then. Everything changed with the September 2015 Volkswagen Dieselgate emissions scandal. With public faith hugely damaged, the last two and a half years have been filled with little but bad news for those who love diesel. In 2017, the share of new diesel cars in Germany fell to 38.8 percent; still very high, but a dramatic fall from the 47.7 percent figure of 2015. A ban on diesel cars in German cities would surely accelerate what is beginning to look like the death of diesel. What happens now? Tuesday's ruling does not mean there is now a diesel ban in place in Stuttgart, Dusseldorf or anywhere else. However, it does mean that there is now no legal impediment to German states and municipalities banning all but the very latest diesel models (those meeting so-called ‘Euro 6' standards, introduced after September 2015) from city centers, something they will now come under massive pressure to do from environmental lobby groups such as DUH, whose legal action led to today's case. Pressure will also come from the European Commission. Almost 70 German cities heavily exceed EU NOx limits, with Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich the worst offenders. Germany needs to lower these levels fast, or else it will face huge EU fines. With diesel-powered vehicles accounting for more than 40 percent of total German NOx pollution, they will bear the immediate brunt of any emissions-reducing measures. The highly influential German automobile industry is worth close to €500 billion ($616 billion) to the German economy annually and employs close to 1 million people directly and indirectly, so car industry representatives and lobby groups vehemently oppose any bans. The German government is understandably wary of upsetting this group, or indeed the many millions of German citizens currently driving diesel cars. Nonetheless, with possible EU legal action looming over Germany's poor air quality, the government may have little option but to fully endorse and support Tuesday's ruling. Already there are strong suggestions from several politicians that the possible imposition of diesel bans will torpedo any fledgling plans, touted in recent weeks, to introduce free public transport systems within five so-called German ‘model' cities. On top of this, significant moves to ban diesels in Germany will inevitably lead to similar moves across Europe, with environmentalists and green politicians likely to crank up the pressure, already at a high pitch with Paris, Madrid and Athens all having committed to diesel bans by 2025. The longer term effects With diesel sales already on the decline in Germany, the introduction of diesel bans, however limited, would inevitably accelerate that decline according to most market analysts. Although diesel models built from late 2015 will be exempt, the damage to ‘brand diesel' will surely be profound. With more than 15 million diesel cars currently on German roads, many of them built before 2015, owners may be prompted to get rid of them as quickly as possible, potentially knocking billions off the value of the German and European car market — and slowly but surely, knocking diesels off the roads for good. The car industry itself will also ultimately have to react. Several carmakers have already committed to ending production of diesel vehicles within the next few years, with Fiat Chrysler the latest to do so, according to reports in recent days. Last summer, BMW and Audi agreed with the Bavarian state government that they could "upgrade" several diesel cars built between 2011 and 2015 with software that would reduce emissions. Read more: Opinion: Farewell to diesel cars in Germany? The prospect of a diesel ban will place such pledges under more intense scrutiny; many are likely to argue that the costs of such upgrading would be unrealistic and prohibitive. Scrappage schemes, also expensive but more definitive in resolving the diesel issue, will also increasingly come into the equation. What is clear is that the verdict of the court in Leipzig is going to blow a powerful gust of change into the already turbulent world of diesel usage in Germany and beyond. Precisely what will happen to diesel cars over the next few years remains to be seen, but bans or no bans, it is hard to see how diesel can ever return to the intoxicating position it once occupied.

Germany’s top administrative court has paved the way for potential bans on diesel cars in cities. Does this ultimately mean the death of diesel? Or can the beloved diesel engine adapt and survive? Diesel-guzzling car lovers need not panic just yet — you can still drive your beloved set of wheels home this evening, wherever you are. But Tuesday’s ruling ... Read More »

Diabetes: dirty air may raise insulin resistance risk

Children’s exposure to air traffic pollution could increase their risk of insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes in adults, suggests a study in Diabetologia. German research on 397 10-year-olds found that living close to a major road increased resistance by 7% per 500m. Air pollutants are known to be oxidisers that can impact on lipids and proteins in the ... Read More »

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