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Low Emission Zones: What Are They?

3 October 2018


Low Emission Zones: Defined

Low Emission Zones (LEZ) are specific areas, within a town or city, that can only be entered by vehicles that emit certain levels of air pollutants. The purpose of Low Emission Zones is to help countries meet air quality standards and emission limits which are negatively impacted by heavy traffic in towns and cities. Low Emission Zones target two direct pollutants – particulates with an aerodynamic diameter of less than 10 μm (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

LEZs also aim to mitigate the effects of rising air pollution levels on human health. Air pollution is harmful to vulnerable populations (the elderly and very young), those living in urban areas, exacerbates the effects of heart and lung diseases / conditions, and can increase asthma attacks (Urban Access Regulations in Europe). A 2004 study stated that about 350,000 individuals die every year in the EU from PM10.

A Snapshot of Low Emission Zones: London, Berlin and Stockholm

A few of the major cities in the EU to implement LEZs include London, Berlin and Stockholm. Most recently, Scotland has announced its intention to introduce a LEZ in Glasgow at the end of 2018 (Glasgow City Council).

London’s LEZ has been in operation since 2008 – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – and covers most of Greater London (the largest LEZ in Europe). Currently, the LEZ only charges large polluting heavy diesel vehicles. However, a phased implementation of stricter emissions standards will begin to roll out starting April of 2019.

Berlin’s environmental zone (its designation of the LEZ) was also implemented in 2008 and further restrictions were applied in 2010. The environmental zone is only accessible to vehicles with a green sticker, which indicates the vehicle belongs to the best emission group (emit low levels of nitrogen dioxide and particles).

Stockholm’s LEZ for heavy goods vehicles was implemented in 1996 and targets heavy-duty vehicles. However, the Government have now provided municipalities to set LEZs. A municipality will be able to set out one of the 3 following LEZs:

  1. The regulation of only heavy vehicles i.e. lorries and buses;
  2. Only diesel cars that meet emission standards Euro 5 or Euro 6 and petrol cars that meet emission standard Euro 5 or better;
  3. Purely electric cars, fuel cell cars, gas cars that meet emission standard Euro 6, electric heavy vehicles, fuel cell heavy vehicles, plug-in hybrids and gas heavy vehicles that meet emission standard Euro 6 will be allowed in this zone.

There are many other major cities all over the EU that have implemented LEZs and have had varying success in improving air quality standards. Next week’s blog will examine the efficacy of LEZs in London, Berlin and Stockholm.

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