Smog alert

Faced with dangerous levels of smog, cities across Europe are starting to implement harsh crackdowns on diesel cars. Paris voted in late 2015 to ban most diesel cars from the capital by 2020, and France as a whole has begun to offer generous subsidies for those trading in a diesel car for an electric car. Pressure is building in London as well, with a report from the Institute for Public Policy Research in July warning that the city will fail to meet its air pollution targets without similar action. In Germany, lawmakers are expected to vote soon on allowing individual municipalities to ban older diesel cars.

This crackdown on diesel cars marks a dramatic turnaround for western European countries. As concern over global carbon emissions began to grow in the lead-up to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, diesel was touted as an attractive alternative to gasoline cars due to its lower carbon output. A series of policy changes such as lower diesel taxes boosted the market share of diesel cars from 10 per cent in 1990 to 55 per cent in 2012.

Shifting to diesel has created a number of unintended consequences. Cars running on diesel may emit fewer carbon emissions, but they also produce much higher levels of particulates and nitrogen oxides (NOx). This has exacerbated air pollution in Europe’s largest cities, leading cities like Paris to adopt drastic measures like limiting the number of cars on the road during smog days. Attempts to introduce stricter NOx tests for cars were widely manipulated by carmakers taking advantage of loopholes. Other companies like Volkswagen took this a step further and began designing software to cheat the emissions tests.

Some Asian cities are also beginning to follow suit, with the South Korean cities of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi phasing in a ban on older diesel vehicles over the next few years. In India, however, the Supreme Court intervened in August to overturn a series of lower court rulings banning diesel vehicles from the capital for contributing to the city’s growing pollution crisis.

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