Thousands of people have ignored this Saturday the unbearable heat that lashed the capital and has taken to the streets in defense of Central Madrid, the anti-pollution plan that restricts the entry of the most polluting vehicles to the heart of the city.
This plan was launched by the previous municipal government team, headed by Manuela Carmena and, after recovering the PP the mayor with the help of Citizens and Vox, the City Council has decreed a moratorium that abolishes fines for breaking the restrictions for three months This supposes its elimination in practice.
The protesters ( 10,000, as reported by the Government Delegation , and more than 60,000, according to the organizers) have taken the central lanes of the Gran Vía to the cry of “I do want Central Madrid”. “It can not be that they remove a measure that works because the party that governs changes,” lamented Ana Martín, who has attended the march with her two daughters.
This neighbor from the neighborhood explains that every day she takes her daughter to school and that she has noticed how the traffic has fallen. Traffic and pollution, as they have defended with the records of the NGO measurement stations such as Ecologists in Action and the Ministry for Ecological Transition.
The manifestation of this Saturday transcends the local scope and, even, the national one. And not only because several of the main European newspapers have echoed the reversion of a low emission area , something unprecedented in a large capital of the European Union (EU), according to the federation of NGO Transport and Environment.
Air pollution occupies, together with climate change, the first place in the environmental concerns of European citizens. “Pollution of the environment and poor air quality,” says the protest manifesto, “are extremely serious problems that must be disconnected from the political colors with which each one identifies.”
“Pollution is one of the most important health problems now,” explained recently retired pediatrician Mariano Sánchez Bayle. “He is responsible for 5,000 premature deaths every year in Madrid, we must go out to the streets to defend the population.”
The manifestation of this Saturday transcends the local scope and, even, the national one.
The manifesto of the protest, moreover, recalls the threat from Brussels hanging over Spain with a hypothetical fine millionaire, like the one that is already being paid for the poor purification of the waters – if the Madrid problems of contamination are not solved.
Cutting pollution has so far been one of the objectives of the European Commission. And the expected thing is that, after the last European elections in which the green movement has gained weight, this fight adds even more impulses.
For the past decade, the EU has had an air quality directive that sets limits for the most common pollutants. But the Commission itself acknowledged a year ago, in its report Pure air for all , a “contumative breach of air quality standards” in the majority of EU members. And warned: these breaches continue “undermining the quality of life of citizens.”
Spain is also part of the group of countries that have settled in the “non-compliance contumaz” and the problems are centered mainly in Madrid and Barcelona with nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ). Almost parallel to the preparation of this report, the Commission decided to take the EU Court of Justice for non-compliance to six countries including Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. Spain was spared because Barcelona and Madrid presented anti-pollution plans that include areas of low emissions such as the one that has now suspended the new Madrid City Council.
Faced with the threat that the case against Spain is being reopened, the mayor of the capital, José Luis Martínez-Almeida (PP), has argued that Brussels does not specifically demand that Central Madrid be maintained, but that pollution be lowered. But that is impossible if you do not attack the exhaust pipes, the vehicles that burn fossil fuels.
“The transport sector is the one that contributes most to nitrogen oxide emissions and, also, significantly to particle emissions,” the Commission recalled in its report, which cited low-emission areas.
The measures carried out in Madrid and in nine other large cities of the EU have been analyzed during the last five years by the European Environment Agency. And, as this agency concludes, low emission areas are one of the most used tools to combat pollution in the cases they have studied. In fact, in nine of those ten cities are already implemented or are planned.
“It can not be that we are all wrong, that all European cities are wrong,” says CSIC researcher and pollution expert Xavier Querol. Remember that in the EU there are 280 low emission areas and that the Madrid (with only 4.7 kilometers) is nothing from the point of view of the surface compared to the 88 square kilometers of the Brussels, for example .
“Pollution is one of the most important health problems now,” explains the pediatrician since the march
Querol says to be expectant to see what plan the City Council presents, because he has no doubt that he will have to act, fundamentally, because of the threat from Brussels. But he insists: “You have to touch traffic, there is no other”. “And you have to reduce the number of vehicles, not just make a technological change,” he says.
The report of the European Environment Agency pointed out, however, that these low emission areas and restrictions on traffic are generally the measures against pollution that are most opposed. “It is true that in the beginning they generate opposition or indifference,” admits Paco Segura, state coordinator of Ecologists in Action, one of the organizing platforms of the event.
“But it happens as with the anti-smoking law: People at first do not pronounce or there is some opposition, but when it is approved people see unthinkable to go back”.
“All the capitals of the world should have a Central Madrid, and larger,” said Patricia Gomez, neighbor of the city and user of electric vehicle. Because Central Madrid, as Querol explains, was a “first brick” that would serve to build something greater. However, the City Council has decided to leave it in the air, which has made the center of the city filled this Saturday with demonstrators.