Before 2023, municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants (a total of 149, according to 2020 data from the INE, which add up to 53.1% of the total population of Spain), must set up Low Emission Zones (ZBE) , as established by the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law, in force since May 22. This obligation also extends to island territories and municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants that have air quality problems.
LEZs have been shown to be one of the most effective measures to simultaneously tackle greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and air pollution problems in cities. Problems, both caused by the massive use of fossil fuels. The fundamental mission of the LEZs is to limit access to cities to the most polluting and CO2-emitting vehicles.
As stated in the National Integrated Energy and Climate Plan (PNIEC) 2021-2030, the LEZs are one of the main tools on which the reduction of 27 million tons of CO2 in the transport sector is based (which is equivalent to to 33% of the current emissions of this sector) that we want to achieve between now and 2030.
Thus, it is necessary to ensure the proper functioning of the LEZs so that they effectively fulfill their role as a key tool in reducing CO2 emissions from transport in cities.
To achieve this objective, it is absolutely necessary to carry out an intelligent reform of the current system of environmental badges of the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), which is currently under review. This system of labels for classifying vehicles according to their pollutant level is totally outdated and has significant deficiencies. As it is now designed by the DGT, it would undoubtedly be a major obstacle to achieving the effectiveness of the LEZs.
One of the great problems of the current DGT system is that it does not take into account the CO2 emissions emitted by vehicles. Obviously, if this key parameter is not included in the labeling system, LEZs will be doomed to failure, since one of their fundamental missions is to reduce CO2 emissions from the transport-mobility sector, as determined by the PNIEC .
Therefore, it is essential that the new system incorporates a CO2 emission threshold, so that for each category both the requirements of the corresponding Euro standard and a certain CO2 emissions cap must be met, always measured under the WLTP standard. .
On the other hand, consistent with the above, the new system of environmental badges should reserve the ZERO label for vehicles that are truly zero-emission. Currently, this label is awarded to battery electric vehicles (BEV), extended range electric vehicles (EREV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) with a range of 40 km or fuel cell vehicles (FCEV). Therefore, among the vehicles in this category are some that can function as internal combustion vehicles and emit polluting substances in the places through which they circulate. It is necessary to limit the distinctive ZERO as a cleaner category only for vehicles with zero emissions ‘in situ’ such as pure electric and fuel cell.
Another major deficiency in the current DGT system is the existence of the confusing ECO label. It is a misleading label for gas vehicles, which is a fossil fuel and does not contribute to decarbonisation. Of course, a fossil fuel cannot be described as ecological. Hybrid vehicles, even those with the heaviest weight and displacement, are also currently considered ECO, many of which are less efficient than their internal combustion engine equivalents.
The current ECO badge should be replaced, thus eliminating the current confusion in the collective imagination, and incorporating a new D badge that allows distinguishing the most efficient and least polluting internal combustion vehicles.
As the labels are currently designed by the DGT, even highly polluting vehicles can obtain a C or even ECO classification. The latter is counterproductive to achieve the effectiveness of the LEZs since, as explained before, the main objective of the generalized implementation of these zones is the reduction of emissions of
CO2 to the atmosphere.
We need an environmental labeling system for vehicles that positively discriminates against those that actually pollute less. If not, the LEZs will be of little use, which will prevent the objectives of the PNIEC from being achieved and will make the obligation established by the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law remain a dead letter.
Almost 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Spain are caused by transport in urban agglomerations. Therefore, it is undeniable that cities have a fundamental role to play in the fight against climate change and for this it is necessary to have a useful and coherent system of environmental labels for vehicles that effectively contributes to the reduction of these emissions.