Protest in Madrid as conservatives suspend ban on most polluting cars

Thousands protested in Madrid on Saturday against the suspension of curbs on polluting cars by the new conservative city hall, raising fears that environmental rollbacks seen in the United States may be spreading to Europe.

The first reversal of environmental policies by a major European city comes despite soaring global environmental concerns and is a fresh sign of growing divisions in Spain after a series of inconclusive elections in April and May.

Last November Madrid’s then far-left government banned most petrol and diesel cars from its center to tackle high levels of nitrogen dioxide. The policy was known as “Madrid central” and it was intended to bring Madrid into line with EU clean air rules which it had been violating since 2010.

“Yes we can, I do want Madrid central,” chanted the protesters. Some were holding banners that read “I want to breathe free” and “We aspire to have a Madrid without smoke”.

People of all ages rallied despite a scorching heatwave in Spain and most of Europe, which had already forced the city of Paris to ban more than half of all registered cars from its roads earlier this week because the heat worsens pollution.

Various European cities including Paris, Hamburg, Amsterdam, London and Oslo have started to penalize or ban older polluting cars as they seek to phase out all fossil fuel cars in the coming decade.

Environmental groups including Greenpeace say the “Madrid central” measure slashed air pollution levels from car emissions in the center to record lows.

The new city hall run by the conservative People’s Party suspended fines on cars entering the currently restricted area of around five sq km (two sq miles) from 1 July, while it reviews the plan to make it “compatible with citizens’ mobility needs”.

The European Commision has warned Spain that it would face sanctions and a possible lawsuit if it fails to meet air quality standards in its largest cities of Madrid and Barcelona.

 

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