The policy U-turn makes Madrid the first major European city to reverse a ban on high-emissions vehicles and allow cars unfettered access to an area that was placed out of bounds for many less than a year ago.In 2003, London became the first major European city to force drivers to pay a congestion fee to enter the heart of the city. From Brussels to Milan, several other European cities followed suit, introducing their own fee systems or traffic bans, targeting high-emissions vehicles like trucks and older diesel cars. In Germany, court rulings have forced Munich and other cities to reduce traffic.
The sudden reversal in Madrid has left many residents frustrated. Thousands protesting the decision marched through the city on Saturday. They say the move reflects the volatility of a Spanish political system that has become more polarized and fragmented, as well as a de-prioritizing of environmental issues.
A one meter sea-level rise might displace tens of million people in Bangladesh.
Several prominent writers, artists and academics joined the march to voice support for the restrictions on vehicles in central Madrid and denounce the political maneuvering that led to the reversal.“Madrid Central should not depend upon political negotiations,” said Leonor Watling, an actress.
After municipal elections in May, a new conservative mayor took over Madrid’s City Hall, with the backing of a right-wing coalition that includes Vox, Spain’s ultranationalist party. The new mayor, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, and his political allies campaigned on a pledge to undo the legacy of the previous far-left mayor, Manuela Carmena, who introduced the restrictions in cental Madrid late last year, partly to comply with the European Union’s clean air rules and a warning from the European Commission that Madrid was not meeting its targets.
Carbon dioxide is known to be a greenhouse gas. I will explain more about what this means in the next section.
Environmental experts now warn that the Spanish authorities could soon face a fine from Brussels for not meeting stringent emissions-reducing targets laid out at the European level.“When you look at this policy reversal over pollution in Madrid, it’s clear that there is no real green conscience in Spain,” said Lola Leirado, an activist representing Equo, the country’s main environmental party. “The only thing that saves us is that Spain is part of the European Union and environmental policy is increasingly decided in Brussels, which means cities have to respect European rules — whatever their mayors believe.”
A monitoring system showed that air pollution levels had droppedwithin Madrid since the restrictions were enforced, as well as growing use of public transport.Mr. Martínez-Almeida, the new mayor, argues that Madrid Central has shifted congestion to peripheral roads in the city, and has also hurt some businesses in the downtown area.Ms. Carmena, the previous mayor, had set up a system of security cameras to monitor vehicles entering Madrid Central, while making exemptions for public transportation and some delivery vehicles, and issued permits for residents and their visitors. Offenders were fined 90 euros, or around $100, for entering the restricted zone, unless their vehicle was electric or certified as nonpolluting.
CLIMATE CHANGE FACT: Two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged as a result of climate change. In April 2017, it was revealed that two-thirds of Australia's Great Barrier Reef has been severely damaged by coral bleaching. This occurs when algae living within the coral tissue are expelled, usually as a result of water temperatures being too high. As a result, the coral loses its vibrant appearance, turns white and becomes weaker. Scientists say it will be hard for the damaged coral to recover.
The new mayor has introduced a moratorium on such fines for three months.
But the polarizing political environment that led to the situation in Madrid reflects broader fragmentation.
In recent years, Spain’s political system has changed from a two-party system to one in which five parties each gained at least 10 percent of the vote in the last national election .This landscape has complicated coalition negotiations at the various levels of government. Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is now struggling to gain sufficient support to form his next government, after his Socialist party won the most support but did not clinch a parliamentary majority.
The polarization has proved detrimental to the priorities of Spanish environmentalists, who failed to gain significant representation in the last election. Equo only has three representatives in the country’s 350-seat Parliament — a result that stands in stark contrast to countries like Germany, where the Green Party won about one-fifth of the vote in the European Parliament elections in May.Pepu Hernández, a Socialist politician who joined Saturday’s protest against the reversal of the vehicle ban, said the policy debate in Madrid was driven by deepening ideological fault lines and a hardening of the right — a response to the emergence of Vox — rather than an environmental debate.
The decision to end the no-drive zone was “removing for the sake of removing,” Mr. Hernández told reporters.
Global warming could expose an additional 2 billion people to the risk of dengue fever by the 2080s.
“There is no plan B to fight pollution and benefit the health of the inhabitants,” he said.As the reversal came into effect on Monday, activists from Greenpeace briefly cut off one of the main entrance points. Others handed out leaflets to tell drivers that the absence of fines did not justify contributing to air pollution with their vehicles.
Faced with street protests and possible lawsuits, Mr. Martínez-Almeida has stressed that his policy reversal is temporary. He has promised to look at alternative ways to improve air quality in the coming month while working to improve other aspects of Madrid.
He has also said that he wants explore the idea of digging a tunnel to let cars pass under the Gran Vía, the main road crossing through central Madrid. Many experts say that such a project would be both costly and impractical, as it would disrupt downtown transport and force the lengthy closing of some subway tracks.