Barcelona to open southern Europe's biggest low-emissions zone

City bans most polluting vehicles from area 20 times the size of Madrid’s zone

The largest low-emissions zone in southern Europe opens in Barcelona on New Year’s Day, banning the most polluting vehicles from entering an urban area including the city and some satellite towns.

Petrol-driven cars bought before 2000 and diesels older than 2006 will be banned and face a fine of €100-€500 (£85-£425) each time they enter the zone. A moratorium will be in place for the first three months, during which time offenders will receive notification of the infraction but will not be fined.

Unlike a similar zone in central Madrid, the Barcelona ban covers the entire metropolitan area. In the Madrid zone, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO²) fell by 48% in a year. Both cities frequently exceed World Health Organization levels for NO² and other pollutants.

The Barcelona zone covers 95 sq km – 20 times the size of the Madrid one – and encompasses four satellite towns in addition to the city area itself. It will be monitored by 150 cameras.

Janet Sanz, the deputy mayor in charge of mobility, said Barcelona hoped to reduce the number of cars in the city by 125,000 within three years, and air pollution by 20% within four.

If these targets were not met, Sanz said, Barcelona would consider introducing a London-style congestion charge for all vehicles entering the city.

“It’s about the democracy of public space and public health,” she said. “It’s a combination of reducing pollution but reconfiguring public space so that everyone can enjoy it.”

The low-emissions zone is designed to complement the city’s so-called superblocks scheme, in which areas made up of nine city blocks are closed to through traffic and partly pedestrianised.

There are currently six superblocks, with 11 more at various stages of completion. The plan envisages a total of 503 encompassing almost all the city.

Inevitably, the scheme has its opponents who argue it will affect business and force people to buy newer, cleaner vehicles. Sanz denies this, claiming it will encourage people to use the city’s excellent public transport system.

To this end the transport authority has introduced new tariffs, including a travel card offering unlimited journeys on public transport within the metropolitan area for €40 a month.

There will also be a one-year moratorium for owners of banned vehicles who can prove they earn less than €8,000 a year, and for delivery vehicles. All banned vehicles will be allowed to enter the city 10 times a year. 


Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Judge reinstates Madrid's low emissions zone
New rightwing council fails to reverse policy of former mayor Manuela Carmena

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

08, Jul, 2019 @11:53 AM

Article image
Madrid could become first European city to scrap low-emissions zone
Region’s likely new president Isabel Díaz Ayuso believes congestion is part of city’s cultural identity

Arthur Neslen

31, May, 2019 @10:53 AM

Article image
Barcelona launches 10-year plan to reclaim city streets from cars
Plans include making one in three Eixample streets “green zones” and creating 21 public squares

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

11, Nov, 2020 @4:50 PM

Article image
Barcelona to ban smoking on four of its beaches
Pilot scheme will operate from end of May to mid-September as part of city’s ongoing clean air drive

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

17, Feb, 2021 @12:53 PM

Article image
'It’ll be a little apocalyptic': Spanish theatre troupe to take to high seas
La Fura dels Baus want to circumnavigate the globe on a refitted ice-breaker to draw attention to the climate emergency

Sam Jones in Madrid

08, Sep, 2019 @9:09 AM

Article image
Barcelona school and residents create solar energy community
Council-supported project beginning on roof of school in Poblenou could grow across the city

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

24, Jul, 2022 @10:48 AM

Article image
Town near Barcelona uses wolf urine to keep wild boar away
Lack of rain may be forcing animals to seek food from rubbish bins in Aiguafreda

Stephen Burgen in Barcelona

22, Aug, 2019 @4:39 PM

Article image
France to ban some domestic flights where train available
MPs vote to suspend internal flights if the trip can be completed by train within two and a half hours instead

Kim Willsher in Paris

12, Apr, 2021 @9:34 AM

Article image
Global heating: London to have climate similar to Barcelona by 2050
Nearly 80% of cities to undergo dramatic and potentially disastrous changes, study finds

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

10, Jul, 2019 @6:00 PM

Article image
Fight the power: why climate activists are suing Europe’s biggest coal plant
Future of Poland’s Bełchatów power station under scrutiny as grassroots groups and NGOs take radical action

Christian Davies in Warsaw

26, Sep, 2019 @9:36 AM