Home Sciences Low Emission Zones for cities, mandatory in 2023

Low Emission Zones for cities, mandatory in 2023


The Climate Change and Energy Transition Law is clear. Before 2023, all municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, as well as the island territories in Spain, must establish a Low Emissions Zone (ZBE). This obligation will also be extended to those municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants when the pollution levels set forth in Royal Decree 102/2011, of January 28, regarding the improvement of air quality, are exceeded.

These zones will not only limit the entry of polluting vehicles, but must also facilitate healthy forms of movement for citizens, such as cycling or walking through “intra-urban green corridors”.

also se must guarantee the improvement and use of public transport, which will have to move towards its electrification or, on the other hand, the use of emission-free fuels, such as biomethane. It also includes the need to have plans to promote private electric mobility, which implies the creation of recharging points.

In fact, associations for the defense of the environment such as Ecologists in Action insist that these LEZs should not only focus on the restriction of road traffic, but must be accompanied by “ambitious” mobility plans that guide citizens towards a change in travel, from private traffic to non-motorized means, in addition to promoting the use of public transport.

In this way, not only will it be possible to improve the air quality of large cities, but also to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“This is a vitally important aspect, given that Road transport is one of the main emitters of CO2, and constitutes 26% of the total emissions in the Spanish State. Given the climatic emergency in which we live, this double objective should be mandatory”, points out Ecologistas en Acción in its report ‘Low Emission Zones. Tool against pollution and global warming’.

So cities like Valencia, Córdoba, Málaga, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Pontevedra, and so on up to almost 150 municipalities throughout the country, are already designing and implementing their low emission zones to adapt to the Climate Change Law.

However, Spain already has established Low Emission Zones, such as the two nerve centers of the country: Madrid and Barcelona.


In the case of the Spanish capital, its low emission zone came into force in 2018 under the name ‘Madrid Central’ and with the approval of the European Commission. In fact, it was the first Spanish city to design and implement a low-emission zone in its metropolitan area.

It was an area of ​​472 hectares that covered almost the entire downtown district. General traffic was restricted to this delimited area, with exceptions for residents, public transport, vehicles of certain groups and the least polluting according to the DGT.

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A year later, the polluting emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by passenger cars had been reduced by 38% and those of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 14%, according to a study by the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM).

This measure came to be overturned by the courts and recovered with a new Sustainable Mobility Ordinance, which meant a new name ‘Distrito Centro’ and expand access for ZBE merchants, with the same rights as residents.


Since January 1, 2020, Barcelona has a Low Emissions Zone of 95 square kilometers which includes practically the entire municipality of Barcelona, ​​the surrounding towns of Sant Adrià de Besòs and L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, and part of the municipalities of Esplugues de Llobregat and Cornellà de Llobregat.

This area is operational from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and, with its start-up, it aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15% through the progressive restriction of the most polluting vehicles, that is, without environmental labels.

In this case, however, the future of the ZBE is uncertain, since the Superior Court of Justice of Catalonia has annulled this initiative, due to lack of sufficient reports and excessively rigorous measures. For now, however, the City Council maintains the ZBE in force.

This regulation includes the restrictions on access, movement and parking of vehicles according to their polluting potential; the minimum requirements of low emission zones in terms of air quality, energy efficiency and noise, and promotes coordination between public administrations and between municipalities, including the possibility of establishing supra-municipal low emission zones in addition to the applicable sanctioning regime.

An adaptation period of four years is also contemplated for those projects in low emission zones established prior to the entry into force of this royal decree.


Low emission zones are old acquaintances for the great European metropolises. Some of these cities have been implementing these measures for ten or even twenty years and fully operational to reduce pollution in urban areas.

berlin is one of the examples, with its ZBE operational since January 2008 and updated in previous years. It covers an area of ​​88 square kilometers and is bounded by the circular tram line.

Ecologistas en Acción points out that in the first year of its inauguration, vehicles without an environmental label (Euro 1) decreased by 70%.

London It is another of the European cities that has made the most progress in putting limits on road traffic. Already in 2003, it created a “congestion tax” for the central area of ​​the capital, that is, a mandatory toll of about 12 euros to enter this area with the vehicle.

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In 2019, the Ultra Low Emissions Zone was inaugurated, which extended the perimeter in 2021, affecting diesel vehicles prior to 2015 and gasoline vehicles prior to 2006.

In the case of MilanAs of 2012, a combination of LEZs and tolls came into force, including an area of ​​128 square kilometers and a toll based on environmental criteria, generating two large concentric zones in the Italian city.

There are larger cases such as Holland, which has a national framework for the regulation of low-emission zones, called “milieuzones”. So the municipalities are divided into yellow, green or purple environmental zones depending on the type of vehicle.

What are Spain’s goals for 2030?

The Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition also establishes minimum objectives that the country must have met by 2030, the year that the UN itself sets as the deadline to meet the Sustainable Development goals agreed by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, which came to replace those known as the Millennium Goals.

In the case of Spain, within eight years, the country must have reduced the greenhouse gases of the national economy as a whole by at least 23% relative to 1990 levels.

Likewise, in 2030, energies of renewable origin must have achieved a penetration in final energy consumption of at least 42%. Regarding the electrical system, the objective is to have achieved a electricity generation of at least 74% from these renewable energies.

By then, another of the aspirations is to have improved the energy efficiency of Spain through a reduction in primary energy consumption of at least 39.5% with respect to what is marked by community regulations.

With all this, before 2050, which the law considers “the shortest possible time”, the country must have reached the climate neutrality.

On the other hand, the law leaves the door open to the review of all these objectives, provided that it is an upward update of the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions marked.

Furthermore, those revisions will be justified by the need to adjust national goals to international commitments such as the Paris Agreement, to comply with European Union regulations or to adapt to technological and scientific advances. These reviews will begin in 2023.

Environment section contact: crisisclimatica@prensaiberica.es