How many good laws have ended up being mere paper for lack of political will to develop normatively the precepts that they contained?
Unfortunately, this could be the case of Law 7/2021 on Climate Change and Energy Transition, specifically in relation to its magnificent Article 14 “Promotion of mobility without emissions”, which, in its section 3, letter a) establishes the obligation to implement Low Emission Zones in municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants (149 throughout Spain) and in island territories before 2023.
One of the most effective measures to simultaneously deal with greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO2), which cause climate change, and the problems of atmospheric pollution (due to nitrogen oxides, particles, etc.) in cities is the implementation in them of Low Emission Zones (LEZ).
The importance of LEZs as a measure to reduce CO2 emissions is clearly reflected in the Integrated National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (PNIEC), which considers them the main driving force behind the decarbonisation of the mobility sector -transport. The objective of the PNIEC is to achieve a reduction of 27 million tons of CO2 equivalent in the transport sector by 2030, which would mean a reduction of 33% of current emissions in this sector.
A measure of such importance for the fight against climate change and air pollution as the establishment of effective LEZs in cities cannot be exclusively entrusted to the arbitrary will of the local administration. One only has to think of the tremendous political ups and downs that, from the moment of its conception, the small LEZ of the city of Madrid has had to suffer, which no longer retains even its original name of “Madrid Central”, to realize that that reality.
Many municipalities are not understanding (or do not want to understand) that, among the main objectives of the LEZs, is the reduction of CO2 emissions, nor do they understand their catalytic role to promote a transfer from the most polluting mobility towards modes based on true sustainability , such as active mobility and the promotion of zero-emission public transport.
In fact, there are already cases of some municipalities that pretend to want to comply with the obligation imposed by the aforementioned Article 14.3.a) by doing the minimum possible, declaring their LEZs in previously highly pedestrianized areas. This trend can currently be observed in the cases of Saragossa (the fifth most populated city in Spain, which wants to limit its LEZ only to the Historic Center) or Salamanca (where the LEZ is projected to be an area within the city’s ‘central core’, which is largely free of traffic). The generalization of this type of approach will in practice imply a resounding failure in meeting the objectives of reducing CO2 emissions of the PNIEC.
Consequently, the logical and expected thing would be for the Government to normatively develop Article 14.3.a) of the Climate Change and Energy Transition Law by drafting a Royal Decree that, without violating municipal powers, establishes mandatory criteria and Common minimum requirements that the LEZs must have at the state level to ensure their effectiveness as a crucial tool in reducing CO2 in the mobility-transport sector and its implementation with homogeneous criteria in cities.
Establishing the common characteristics that all LEZs should have at the national level will allow sending clear signals to both people and businesses of what needs to change to improve air quality, noise levels and fight climate change in cities. A joint and uniform approach on this issue would make it possible for all citizens and carriers to make economic and operational decisions in a simple way, such as which vehicles to buy and how to use them.
However, the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITERD) has limited itself to elaborating “Recommendations for the creation of Low Emission Zones”. It is a document, undoubtedly well-intentioned, but purely for guidance and voluntary follow-up, which will have little or no practical use in getting municipalities to implement truly effective LEZs.
Without the legal tool of a Royal Decree, what we will have in 2023 will be a totally heterogeneous mosaic of LEZs, most of them completely ineffective when it comes to achieving the objectives that the PNIEC and Law 7/2021 intend to achieve with them.
Why has MITERD given up on preparing this Royal Decree? Nobody has given explanations about it, yet.
This Royal Decree should establish from the outset a sufficiently high level of ambition regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions and other forms of pollution, that it can be considered as a starting point from which cities can go further. fast and further. In addition, this regulation should include an upward revision mechanism that would make it possible to reinforce the access restrictions of the most polluting vehicles from time to time until reaching zero emissions.
In this regard, these regulations should also unify the criteria for the type of vehicles that can access the LEZs. As a proposal, and in accordance with the objectives committed by Spain in its Strategic Energy and Climate Framework, as well as those from the European Union, these zones should only allow access to private and commercial vehicles that are zero emissions or low emissions – that do not exceed 95 g CO2 / Km (WLTP). To do this, it is necessary to incorporate a CO2 emission threshold into the vehicle’s environmental badge system.
However, the current label system of the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) does not discriminate with respect to CO2 emissions. As these badges are currently designed by the DGT, even highly polluting vehicles can obtain a C or even ECO classification (in the case of natural gas vehicles or many hybrid SUVs). The latter undermines the effectiveness of the LEZs since the main objective of the widespread implementation of these zones is the reduction of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere.
In this regard, it is also worth asking why the Ministry of the Interior has failed to fulfill the commitment, acquired in June 2020, to reform the current obsolete DGT label system to adapt it to technological evolution and the unstoppable irruption of the electric vehicle? This question also remains still without an adequate answer.