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Why the European Gas-Powered Car "Ban" Is Meaningless

You might've heard that the European Union just banned cars in cities. Three parts of that statement are wrong.

The European Commission caused quite a stir this week when it unveiled a proposal to ban gasoline- and diesel-powered automobiles from cities by 2050. Tucked into a much broader document, the "Roadmap to a Single European Transport Area"(PDF), the suggestion was, of course, immediately taken out of context and blown out of proportion. The Telegraph, for example, ran this utter lie of a headline: EU to ban cars from cities by 2050.

Here is exactly how the hot-button portion of the proposal reads:

Halve the use of ‘conventionally-fuelled’ cars in urban transport by 2030; phase them out in cities by 2050; achieve essentially CO2-free city logistics in major urban centres by 2030.


Simply put: the European Commission is suggesting that, 39 years from now, cars that run on gasoline or diesel should be banned from cities. The bulk of the document breaks down how to gradually phase out carbon-spewing, gas-guzzling vehicles in favor of electric cars and improved mass transit options. Not a bad idea!

Unfortunately, this is just a "white paper" proposal that is far from being any sort of official declaration.

Finally, even if the proposal is adopted, the target date is more than a generation away. 39 years is a long time, and any country can pretty much agree to do anything four decades from now. There's obviously a lot of change of leadership in 39 years, so anything that David Cameron and Angela Merkel and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero would agree to now doesn't have all that great a chance of surviving the long political tides. (That didn't stop the UK transport minister from already rejecting the suggestion outright.) Having spent a fair amount of time covering international climate negotiations, my eyes start to glaze over whenever anyone talks about mid-century targets. Chemistry and physics tell us we have to act much sooner than that. And those fields of science don't negotiate. Wake me when an industrialized nation sets any sort of hard emissions-based target for this decade.

Even if this proposed "ban" was as draconian as the media has made it out to be, it still wouldn't be enough.

Photo (cc) by priscillajp on Flickr

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