Low Emission Zones (ZBE): widespread non-compliance in Spanish cities

Cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, in addition to island territoriesare required by law to activate Low Emission Zones (ZBE) in their urban centers, something that, a few days before the municipal elections, is still a pending task for the majority of cities in the country.

For the purpose of improve air quality and also reduce greenhouse gas emissionsthe Climate Change Law obliges these large municipalities -as well as island localities and those with more than 20,000 inhabitants that exceed the limit levels of regulated pollutants- to implement limited traffic areas in their ZBE urban centers such as those that operate in Madrid and Barcelona.

However, this should have occurred before the start of 2023 and therefore, almost in the middle of the year and with municipal elections in between – next Sunday, May 28 -, the majority of cities “are already late”, laments the person in charge of mobility at Ecologistas en Acción, Carmen Duce.

In December 2022, as environmental groups had been asking for, the Government approved a royal decree regulating ZBEs and establishing guidelines to standardize these areas and provide legal certainty to administrations.

The measure granted cities that already had planning instruments similar to the LEZs a period of 18 months to adapt their models to the new requirements.

“The problem is that many cities have interpreted -and it is clearly not what is stated in the royal decree- that they have 18 months to put the LEZ into operation”, Duce points out, to highlight that one problem is that there is no type of sanctioning mechanism and thus, he believes that the city councils are waiting for the elections to pass to get down to work.

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Madrid and Barcelona, ​​among the exceptions

Two main LEZs were already operational in Spain before the Climate Change Law: the Rondas de Barcelona, ​​which prohibits the most polluting vehicles from traveling on weekdays for most of the day and to which the Ciudad Condal attributes the improvement in air quality recorded, and Madrid Central, promoted by the former mayor of the capital Manuela Carmena and that the current mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, renamed Madrid360.

Pamplonafor its part, has implemented an ZBE that, however, has not entailed new access limitations or added requirements for vehicles that circulate through these streets, where there is no restriction for cars according to their environmental label, so it is not necessary that have one of these labels visible, as clarified by the mayor’s office.

The government of Saragossa It also approved in December to declare the interior area of ​​the Historic District as a provisional LEZ.

No city in Euskadi

The city of victoryinternationally recognized for the sustainability of its model based on active mobility -by favoring travel on foot or by bicycle to the detriment of the private car- is pending to do the same this year, but has not specified a specific date.

Of the six cities of the Basque Country that should have already promoted a ZBE, none have yet complied with state regulations: Bilbao, Barakaldo, Irún and Getxo have no forecast of when it will be done and only studies on the vehicles on the road and current pollution have been commissioned to make decisions Although Bilbao is already planning the purchase of cameras to read car license plates.

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San Sebastián, for its part, plans to implement the ZBE in the center of the city and has approved hiring the necessary technology to make it work, although it has not yet defined which streets it will be limited to or what specific restrictions it will entail, work that has left for the outgoing corporation of the 28M elections.

Without a sanctioning mechanism that forces these cities to activate the ZBEs, environmentalists have opted for the path of “pressing from the social conscience to demand better air quality and review the European funds that have allocated 1,500 million euros to municipalities to execute these mobility plans”, explains Duce.

Murcia It is another of the communities that lags behind when it comes to implementing ZBEs (something that, in any case, does not correspond to the regional government but to the municipal one), since none of the four cities that must abide by this measure of the climate law -Murcia , Cartagena, Lorca and Molina de Segura- have fulfilled the mandate.

Neither Valenciathe third most populous city in the country, has obeyed the rule: there the local government works with the Mobility Board, which brings together more than 80 citizen entities, to see how an ZBE is implemented, but it has not yet been launched .

Most of the municipalities Canary Islands (except for one, La Laguna), as well as Logroño, Oviedo, and Gijón, are other of the many Spanish cities that are still waiting to activate their ZBEs.

In Galicia The city that is progressing at the best pace is Pontevedra, with its own model based on making road traffic more difficult and facilitating foot traffic.

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