Over 320 Low Emission Zones have already been established in various European cities. The leaders are the Italians, who have 172 Low Emission Zones. They are followed by the Germans – 78 Zones as well as by the British, Dutch and French cities. More LEZs are to be established in the next few months in the cities of Central and Eastern Europe.

What are Low Emission Zones and what is their role?

Low Emission Zones are designated areas in a city where vehicles that fail to meet certain emission standards are not allowed to enter. As part of LEZs, vehicles with an electric, hydrogen and gas drive can move without any restrictions. The criterion for being able to drive on roads included in the zone for combustion vehicles is that they meet a sufficiently high EURO emission standard.

Currently, many European tourist cities restrict the entry of petrol and diesel vehicles into the designated area. This course of action is intended to reduce the number of vehicles in order to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution.

The importance of designated areas in the fight against nitrogen oxide emissions

Road transport is a source of harmful nitrogen oxides. NOx is responsible for 40% of the pollution, and 11% is fine PM2 dust emitted from vehicles into the atmosphere. It turns out that only a certain group of vehicles has a decisive impact on the level of exhaust emissions, and thus on the condition of the air. A large part of them are imported cars, with the average age of nearly 15 years. Vast majority of them are diesel and older petrol cars.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), air pollution causes more than 300,000 deaths every year. Reduction of pollutant emissions from transport is intended to protect human health, but also to increase the comfort of living by making urban spaces more friendly.

Low Emission Zones as one of the elements of moving towards sustainable development

The process of achieving zero emissions is long, so it should be spread out over time. The changes must be introduced gradually so that they are acceptable to the whole society.

The introduction of LEZs should be preceded by numerous changes for sustainable development in the city. The most important is the development of infrastructure that will help residents use less individual transport and more micro-mobility and public transport. The development of green areas, bicycle paths or speed limit zones will make the choice between individual and public transport justified in terms of economy and time. From this perspective, LEZs will not be perceived as a limitation, but a natural complement.

Low Emission Zones – what does the future hold?

The forecasts for the coming years are promising. As many as 100 European cities have declared to achieve climate neutrality by 2030. A study conducted by Transport & Environment shows that the number of LEZs is set to increase by 58%, up to 507, by 2025.

Good news is also coming from the CEE countries. Kraków is the first city in Poland to implement LEZs in July 2024. Combustion vehicles manufactured before 2000 and those that fail to meet the Euro 3 standard will not be able to move in the designated area. The minimum standard for diesel engines allowing entry to the Kraków zone is Euro 5, and the year of production is 2010. Until the end of 2025, also Warsaw is planning to implement LEZs, too.

Sylwia Bartołd