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Green Zones in Germany

One of the World’s Most Environmentally Conscious Countries Leads the Way in Attempting to Control Air Pollution

Green Zone in Germany
Environmental (Umwelt) Zone

Germany, one of the world’s most environmentally conscious countries, has made another move to improve the air in its cities; a move that foreign motorists should be aware of. Cars, including foreign-plated ones, may not enter the downtown areas of many cities unless they have a windshield sticker certifying that they have an acceptable emission level.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot drive to Germany; only that you must stay out of the central areas of the increasing number of cities that require the sticker. If you wish to enter the zones you can get the sticker for €5 at vehicle registration offices and vehicle inspection stations (TÜVs) on presentation of your car's registration, which usually has data on its pollution level. Authorized garages also supply them, but possibly will charge more than €5.

A law establishing the zones was passed in 2006 when it was determined that many German cities do not meet the air purity standards for SO2 and particulates set in 1999 by the European Union. Air pollution can cause asthma, cardiovascular problems, lung cancer, and premature death.

There are three different stickers: a green one certifying that the vehicle is environmentally acceptable; a yellow one for less acceptable vehicles, and a red one for those that are still less acceptable. Yellow and red stickers will eventually be phased out, after which all vehicles permitted in the environmental zones will need a green sticker.

Stickers for Green Zone in Germany
Stickers that are allowed beyond the Umwelt sign.

Signs telling you that you are entering one of the environmental zones picture the stickers that are permitted beyond the sign. If you do not have a proper sticker you must turn around. Cars found in an environmental zone without a sticker are subject to a €40 fine. The fact that your car is eligible for a sticker is no excuse for not having one.

Signs showing stickers allowed in Green zone
Sign showing which stickers are allowed in the environmental zone.

The stickers are hard to counterfeit and would be destroyed in any effort to remove them from the windshield. Gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles without catalytic converters will be unable to get any kind of a sticker and will not be permitted in the environmental zones. All gasoline-powered cars with catalytic converters will get a green sticker. So will the best of the diesel-powered vehicles with converters. Diesels, however, present a greater pollution hazard, and many only get yellow or red stickers.

The environmental zones are only the latest in a long series of efforts that has made Germany a world leader in environmental concerns. The green movement there is an old one. It traces its origins back to the student protest movements of the 1970s, directed at the planned proliferation of nuclear power plants in the face of sharply rising oil prices. Green political groups formed locally to protest nuclear power and the planned deployment of a new generation of nuclear weapons to NATO forces stationed in Germany.

A Green was elected to the state parliament in Bremen as early as 1979, and in the following year, at a conference in Karlsruhe, the Greens formed themselves into the world’s first significant environmental political party. It entered the national parliament in 1983, and increased its representation especially after  the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident in the Soviet Union. In 1998 it actually entered the government as a junior coalition partner to the Socialist SPD.

In view of this Germany is an environmental showcase. Most households have four trash barrels, one each for paper, plastic, organic waste and "other." Most neighborhoods have receptacles for green, brown, and white glass. Nuclear power is being phased out,  windmill farms have become a common sight in rural areas, and households are given financial incentives to switch to solar panels. A plan is afoot to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% by 2020, and salmon spawn once again in the Rhine, once known as “the sewer of Europe.”

The first city environmental zones were established on January 1, 2008 in Berlin, Cologne and Hannover. As of 2009 they had also been established in Dortmund,  Ilsfeld, Leonberg, Ludwigsburg, Mannheim, Reutlingen, Schwäbisch-Gmünd, Stuttgart, Tübingen, Pleidelsheim, Bochum, Bottrop, Dortmund, Duisburg, Essen, Frankfurt/Main, Gelsenkirchen, Mülheim an der Ruhr, Munich, Oberhausen, Recklinghausen, Augsburg, Bremen, Herrenberg, Karlsruhe, Nürnberg, Pforzheim, Ulm, and Düsseldorf.

Citiies that plan to establish them in 2010 or later include Dresden, Freiburg (Breisgau), Heidelberg, Mühlacker, Osnabrück, Braunschweig, Darmstadt, Gera, Jena,  Leipzig, Magdeburg, Neu-Ulm, Pfinztal, Regensburg and a  large part of the Ruhr area.

For further information on the environmental zones, including a continually updated list of cities with current and planned zones, check www.umwelt-plakette.de/int_england.php.

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