- Daily & Weekly newsletters
- Buy & download The Bulletin
- Comment on our articles
Flanders’ low-emission zones are working, says report
The low-emission zones (Lez) set up in Antwerp and Ghent over the last few years are having a positive impact on the environment, according to an evaluation carried out for the government of Flanders. The zones have improved air quality in both cities, and Flanders as a whole, by speeding up the replacement of cars that run on diesel, which cause more pollution.
Flemish cities were given the power to introduce low emission zones in 2015. This allows them to restrict access to their territory for the most polluting vehicles, beginning with older models that run on diesel, releasing carbon particles into the air.
As time goes on, the restrictions can be tightened to cover newer diesel-fuelled vehicles and older petrol cars that produce higher levels of nitrogen oxides, which also represent a threat to public health.
Antwerp and Ghent were the first cities to implement Lez, activating their zones in 2017 and 2020 respectively. Brussels also created a Lez, in 2018, but this is not covered by Flanders’ evaluation.
The results show that most residents of the low-emission zones with older diesels sold their vehicles before or immediately after the restrictions came into effect, or in the case of Antwerp when the rules were tightened in 2020. As a result, old cars that run on diesel disappeared from the low-emission zones faster than in the rest of Flanders.
Owners replacing an older diesel usually opted for a new or second-hand petrol vehicle, rather than a cleaner diesel, in order to avoid getting caught by the next round of restrictions. As a result, levels of particles and nitrogen oxides fell sharply in the low-emission zones, and most dramatically in Antwerp.
A similar effect could be seen across the whole of Flanders, with frequent visitors to the low emission zones trading in older diesels, and air quality improving as a result of the whole fleet becoming cleaner. Changes to vehicle and fuel tax will also have played a role in this trend, the report notes.
The evaluation also looked at measures introduced to stop the most vulnerable residents of low-emission from being disadvantaged. These include exemptions and incentives, such as the scrapping premium offered in Ghent to reduce the burden of switching to a cleaner car.
“The improvement in air quality in Antwerp and Ghent, as well as in the rest of Flanders, is certainly positive,” commented environment minister Zuhal Demir. “It’s also positive that Flanders is more concerned with complementary measures for socially vulnerable residents than elsewhere in Europe.”
She will now present the report to the Flemish parliament, where the question of creating low-emission zones in other cities is likely to be hotly contested.
Photo ©Nicolas Maeterlinck/BELGA