Air quality is quality of life. But at the same time, quality of life also includes freedom of movement and mobility. These are the fuels for a vibrant economy. That has made Germany strong. My job is to combine both: increased mobility with clean air.
As much as we take the legitimate concerns and health of the people in our country seriously, we must not forget two things: our companies want to generate added value and thereby bring prosperity and work to all of us. And many people are dependent on their cars – whether as a commuter, mechanic or logistics specialist.
That’s why we want to prevent driving bans, avoid the expropriation of millions of diesel drivers, protect hundreds of thousands of jobs, enable our large companies and small businesses and the millions of commuters to travel freely. There cannot and must not be a conflict between economy and society.
The Federal Government will, therefore, do everything in its power to further reduce emissions, strengthen our economy – and to fulfill our citizens’ need for mobility.
Of course, we need electromobility for that. The future belongs to alternative fuels. But until they can be introduced nationwide, we resort to a technology that is also a figurehead of German engineering: the diesel.
We must, therefore, put an end to the ideological demonization of an engine that will help us comply with nitrogen oxide limits and achieve our climate protection goals. It is indisputable: we need the diesel engine – just like all other driving technologies! Its most modern form is a very efficient engine.
If we were to completely switch to petrol engines now, we would have problems with CO2 emissions. The triumphant advance of electromobility – be it battery electric, hydrogen or fuel cell – is at the ready, but it will take time to become the leading technology on the market.
“The government will do everything in its power to further reduce emissions, strengthen our economy - and to fulfill our citizens' need for mobility.”
Accepting this can help with being objective, solution-oriented and willing to compromise. In coordination with the federal states and municipalities, the automotive industry and environmentalists, the Federal Government has launched a comprehensive package of measures that we are already implementing and constantly expanding and updating where necessary.
This includes the mandatory recall of 2.46 million VW vehicles, which is nearly complete (at 92.3 percent). More than half of the total 2.84 million vehicles have already been retrofitted with the voluntary software update or are about to be completed (1.62 million vehicles). This will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from 5.3 million vehicles by up to 30 percent by the end of 2018.
The government’s emergency program Clean Air is running at full speed. We have thus started the electrification of vehicle fleets and local public transport, set up an office as a central point of contact for the municipalities, appointed a special representative and conducted regional conferences. We also support new models for public transport and the master plans of our cities for customized air pollution control.
We digitize the municipal transport systems and have published a funding directive for the conversion of diesel buses in public transport. With the help of €107 million, we will optimize the emissions of thousands of buses. As a next step, we want to extend the subsidy to other city vehicles, such as garbage trucks, parcel services and ambulances.
We’re getting closer to the goal of making the vehicles cleaner every day on the road. The Federal Ministry of Transport has now also handed over the first funding for electromobility as part of the emergency program. With €20 million, we support the acquisition of around 2,000 electric vehicles for police, post and transport companies. In addition, we will release electric trucks from the truck toll from 1 January 2019. This benefits a large proportion of the approximately 11,800 electric vehicles registered in Germany.
The Federal Government is thus continuing the trend of recent years. The fact is: nitrogen oxide pollution has fallen continuously and significantly in recent years, and in road traffic since 2000 by almost 70 percent. Our clean air measures are also already showing results: The number of cities with nitrogen oxide excesses has fallen – from 90 in 2016 to 66 in 2017.
I am convinced that by 2020 we will be able to ensure that almost all cities comply with nitrogen oxide limits. Where this is not the case, we will follow up and, together with the affected municipalities, find intelligent measures that also eliminate this pollution.
Germany remains a mobility destination with this package of measures. Worldwide, our roads stand for freedom and mobility – and soon also for clean air. At the same time, we can turn the products and concepts into a worldwide export hit.
This article was adapted from Wirtschaft Woche by Stephanie Ott, a writer and editor for Handelsblatt Global in New York.