Future of the Environment

Madrid is banning high-polluting vehicles from the city centre

An exhaust emits fumes as a car is driven through Richmond in London, Britain December 2, 2016.  REUTERS/Peter Nicholls - LR1ECC216LDSZ

Older, less environmentally friendly cars will be prohibited from entering Madrid city centre. Image: REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Future of the Environment?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of the Environment is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of the Environment

If you happen to be walking through the Spanish capital this weekend, you might think its roads are a little less busy than other cities - and you’d be right.

Madrid has just created a low-emissions zone in the city centre - measuring 4.7km², in a move they hope will cut nitrogen dioxide levels by 23% in 2020. Zero-emission vehicles will still be allowed to drive freely in downtown Madrid, but older cars that cause air pollution will be excluded.

Petrol vehicles registered before 2000 and diesel ones registered before 2006 are banned from entering the zone, according to the Guardian.

There are also some notable exemptions, including residents and taxis, but the move signals a new era and demonstrates the government’s commitment to tackling air pollution and congestion.

While most people are in favour of cutting pollution, the partial ban will also mean certain drivers - particularly of commercial vehicles - face the cost of replacing vehicles.

‘Lung for the city’

Known as Madrid Central, the zone is part of Spain’s strategy to combat climate change, which includes cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 90% (compared to 1990 levels) and switching entirely to renewables by 2050.

Madrid City Council says the plan means the Centro district will become “a lung for the city in the heart of Madrid”.

“The benefit of Madrid Central is not only cleaner air, but also less noise and the freeing-up of public space - giving people who live in and visit the district a more welcoming and healthy environment.”

As the council says, it’s designed to favour pedestrians, bicycles and public transport - and is as much about public health as pollution and climate change.

Health risk

Image: European Environment Agency/Statista

According to the European Environment Agency’s 2018 Air quality in Europe report, there were 8,900 premature deaths in Spain due to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in 2015.

Nitrogen dioxide, formed by the burning of fuels in cars, trucks and buses, reacts with other chemicals in the air to form particulate matter and Ozone pollution.

Breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways in the human respiratory system, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, with children and the elderly most at risk.

Short-term exposure can make respiratory diseases like asthma worse and cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing, while longer term exposure can actually cause asthma.

Madrid’s councillor for the environment and mobility Inés Sabanés told the Guardian: “Air quality has been breaching acceptable levels for 10 years. There’s research that shows clear links between pollution peaks and hospital admissions. It has a very clear effect on health – on the number of deaths and premature births.”

Have you read?

Pollution progress

The Spanish capital is not the only major city tackling pollution. Hamburg became the first city in Germany to ban older diesel cars from two main roads in May.

And Mexico City, Paris and Athens joined Madrid in pledging to take diesel cars off their roads by 2025.

As world leaders prepare to gather in Poland next month to set the Paris Agreement in motion at the UN's COP24 climate summit, Madrid is setting a strong example for others to follow.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Future of the EnvironmentClimate ChangeSustainable DevelopmentGlobal HealthHealth and Healthcare
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Air pollution is making it harder for pollinators to find food - here's why it matters

Paige Bennett

February 19, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum