German court could issue landmark judgment regarding ban on diesel cars

Greenpeace activists wear white morphsuits as they stage an action against particulate matter and health burden caused by diesel exhaust on February 19, 2018 in Stuttgart, southern Germany. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018
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German court could issue landmark judgment regarding ban on diesel cars

FRANKFURT AM MAIN: One of Germany’s top courts will decide Thursday whether some diesel vehicles can be banned from parts of cities like Stuttgart and Duesseldorf to reduce air pollution, a possible landmark judgment for the “car nation.”
Eyes have turned to the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig after years of failure by federal, state and local governments to slash harmful emissions.
Fine particle pollution and nitrogen oxides (NOx) contribute to as many as 400,000 premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease per year in the EU.
That has brought Germany and other air quality sinners like France or Italy into the European Commission’s sights for possible legal action.
Some 70 cities in Europe’s most populous nation suffered from average annual nitrogen dioxide levels above EU thresholds last year, with Munich, Stuttgart and Cologne the worst offenders.
“The air is bad here, you cough and you get a scratchy throat, especially in winter,” clean air campaigner Peter Erben said standing beside the exhaust-blackened facades of Stuttgart’s busy Neckartor main road.
“We want immediate action, and there is no more immediate action than reducing traffic.”
After years of warnings, environmental campaign group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) took dozens of municipalities to court to force them into tougher action.
Thursday’s case is an appeal by Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia states after lower-level judges ruled they could impose bans on some diesels in their respective capitals Stuttgart and Duesseldorf.
An in-principle decision could be announced during the day after deliberations begin at 1000 GMT.
“It’s a question of jurisdiction: can or must a state act, or is it up to the federal government to do it?” Baden-Wuerttemberg transport minister Winfried Hermann said.
In Stuttgart, local drivers and business leaders are against even limited driving bans, joined by the city branch of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP).
In their thinking, “we can’t limit people’s freedom, we can’t dispossess diesel owners,” explained Hermann — himself a member of the ecologist Greens.
A ruling would affect all vehicles sold before so-called “Euro 6” standards arrived in September 2015.
To fend off bans and protect the keystone auto industry with its 800,000 jobs, Berlin has offered a cascade of initiatives, including a billion-euro ($1.2 billion) fund for cities to upgrade public transport and buy electric vehicles.
Ministers even suggested to the European Commission they could offer free public transport to cut down on urban car use, although without a detailed plan or budget.
Nevertheless, Merkel — sometimes known as the “car chancellor” for her close ties to the industry — and her government have been “too timid” in dealing with bosses, Association of German Cities chief Helmut Dedy told magazine Der Spiegel.
Experts and environmentalist groups agree government and industry efforts fall far short.
Berlin’s proposals “are just a drop in the ocean” said Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, of the CAR automobile research center.
While he has called for extensive modifications to the diesel engine, a longstanding symbol of German engineering prowess, the carmakers argue they would be too costly and complex.
Instead, manufacturers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have offered software upgrades to millions of vehicles to reduce polluting emissions or trade-ins for newer, cleaner models.
Since Volkswagen confessed in 2015 to a global scheme to cheat regulatory NOx tests on millions of diesel vehicles, the fuel’s share of the new car market has plunged, from 48 percent to around 39 percent last year.
Minister Germann expects the judges in Leipzig to confirm that “people’s health is more important than the right to drive a car.”
Upholding the court decisions in Stuttgart and Duesseldorf would open the way to local authorities imposing a patchwork of bans.
Stuttgart and Baden-Wuerttemberg state have called instead for a standardized, nationwide “blue badge” that would identify the least polluting cars, but so far the federal government has demurred.
A ruling from the highest administrative court would also send an important signal to other tribunals and put pressure on Berlin.
“I would be very surprised if we escape diesel bans” on Thursday, cities’ association chief Dedy said.


OPEC allies including Russia back output hike: Angola

Updated 10 min 8 sec ago
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OPEC allies including Russia back output hike: Angola

  • Russia on Saturday joined partner countries in backing an OPEC-led pledge to boost oil production in response to growing global demand
  • The green light was widely expected after energy ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries already agreed on Friday to raise output by one million barrels a day

VIENNA: Russia on Saturday joined partner countries in backing an OPEC-led pledge to boost oil production in response to growing global demand, Angolan Oil Minister Diamantino Azevedo said.
“We have agreed,” Azevedo told reporters after a meeting with OPEC ministers and 10 non-OPEC partner countries in Vienna.
The green light was widely expected after energy ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries already agreed on Friday to raise output by one million barrels a day.
The proposal is the result of a face-saving compromise hammered out after days of tense talks in Vienna dominated by Iran’s resistance to easing an 18-month-old supply-cut deal that has lifted oil prices to multi-year highs.
Saudi Arabia, supported by Russia, was strongly in favor of pumping more oil to ease fears of a supply crunch and quiet grumbles about the higher prices in major consumer countries like the United States, China and India.
But Iran, bracing for the impact of fresh US sanctions on its oil exports, fiercely objected to raising output targets, as did countries like crisis-hit Venezuela and Iraq who are unable to raise output in the near term.
In the end, a vaguely-worded statement that made no mention of the one-million figure allowed all sides to save face.
Ministers also acknowledged that production problems in several countries meant the real number of extra barrels coming to the market would be several hundred thousand less.
Markets were disappointed with the modest output hike, sending crude prices soaring on Friday.
Brent crude added $2.50 to finish at $75.55 a barrel, while the US benchmark West Texas Intermediate gained $3.04 at $68.58 per barrel.