Home Politics Economics Germany's Merkel, vulnerable on diesel emissions, moves to address issue.

Germany's Merkel, vulnerable on diesel emissions, moves to address issue.

Source: Daily Climate

BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been hailed as the “climate chancellor” for her efforts to help the country shift toward renewable energy. But she has faced criticism from consumers angered by her refusal to come down harder on German automakers over a widening diesel emissions scandal.

Now, with elections scheduled for Sept. 24, Ms. Merkel is trying to address the issue. On Monday, she met with the mayors of 30 German cities plagued by poor air quality, pledging to double the amount of money earmarked for helping local governments fight air pollution.

The diesel-emissions issue has emerged as a vulnerability for Ms. Merkel, who has been accused of being too cozy with Germany’s powerful automobile industry. The meeting on Monday followed a pledge by industry executives and members of her government expressing their continuing support for diesel as a bridge technology.

Major German carmakers, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, have been criticized for producing diesel vehicles that pollute more than rules allow. Volkswagen, in particular, has paid tens of billions of dollars in fines and penalties in the United States for using software to cheat on emissions tests. All three companies have said they will upgrade the software in millions of cars that spew excessive levels of pollutants.

“Time is running out,” Ms. Merkel said Monday of the need to reduce emissions.

Opposition leaders criticized the government’s latest efforts as insufficient.

“What has been decided here are investments for the municipalities,” said Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a leader of the environmentalist Green Party. “They are short term and will not prevent any further bans.”

While the German government has been accused of not doing enough, local officials are taking action. Under pressure from citizens, whose health is affected by the heavy emissions, and from European Union regulators, many German cities are considering banning diesel motors altogether.

In Stuttgart, the southern German home to Daimler and Porsche, legislation that would prohibit diesel engines has been making its way through the courts, with one court already upholding such a ban as the only way to address the city’s dirty air.

If the ruling is upheld on appeal, it could lead to additional legislation. Officials in several German cities, including Munich, where BMW is based, have said they were considering diesel bans, describing such measures as the fastest and easiest way to improve air quality.

In her opening statement on Monday, Ms. Merkel said her government rejected “general driving bans for any kind of motor or type of car, and therefore want to undertake everything possible to prevent them.”

At the same time, she pledged that her government would double the size of a fund announced last month to help communities take steps to reduce urban pollution, bringing its total value to 1 billion euros, or $1.2 billion. Automakers are contributing €250 million of that sum, with the government responsible for the rest.

Other European cities like Madrid and Athens have announced they will enact diesel bans by 2025. Britain and France have also said they will ban the sale of new diesel cars by 2040.

Such moves are making the owners of diesel cars uneasy. The bans lower the resale value of their vehicles, and raise the prospect that even relatively new cars may not be usable to reach urban workplaces. There is also considerable skepticism among owners and environmentalists about whether the upgraded software will actually have a positive impact on air quality.

Already, sales of diesel cars have been affected in Germany: Registration of new diesel cars fell 13.8 percent in August, according to figures released by Germany’s motor vehicle authority.