Low-emission Zone

Preface / The low-emission zone - What is it?

The low-emission zone is an area where only vehicles which comply with certain emission standards are allowed. Vehicles with especially high emissions have to stay outside. The aim of the low-emission zone is to achieve a modernisation of the vehicles driving on the roads and so reduce the diesel particles and nitrogen oxides that people breathe in, since both substances are harmful to health. Diesel particles, for example, are a substance with one of the highest risks of cancer. The low-emission zone does not serve to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), which harms the climate. The low-emission zone still contributes to climate protection as diesel particles also cause climate warming and are today regarded as having the biggest impact on climate after CO2.

Vehicles are classified into four different emission groups in order to differentiate them by the levels of pollutants they emit and are identified by coloured stickers.

Only vehicles belonging to the best emission group, group 4 with a green sticker, may enter the Berlin low-emission zone. These vehicles emit far lower levels of nitrogen oxides and diesel particles than older vehicles in more harmful emission groups. Older vehicles can in some cases be retrofitted with a particle filter so that they can be awarded a green sticker. If this is not possible the vehicle must be replaced.

When does the low-emission zone apply?

The low-emission zone was established on 1 January 2008 with the requirement of a red sticker (stage 1). Since 1 January 2010 the green sticker has been mandatory for the Berlin low-emission zone (stage 2).

In order to permanently reduce pollution in the air in Berlin the low-emission zone traffic restrictions apply permanently, i.e. without any time restrictions. Driving bans apply irrespective of whether air pollution is high or low.

Why is an low-emission zone necessary?

The low-emission zone helps to protect health.
The thresholds of particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) are exceeded along many principal traffic routes in densely populated areas in the inner city of Berlin. Road traffic is the biggest source of these pollutants in Berlin. It contributed around 40 % of fine particles and 80 % of nitrogen dioxide before the low-emission zone was introduced. Pollutant emissions of traffic therefore had to be reduced in order to protect the health of the people living here. The introduction of the low-emission zone has reduced the number of people living along roads where thresholds are exceeded by around one quarter. Residential areas that are not located directly along busy traffic routes have also experienced lower levels of pollution.

What has the low-emission zone achieved?

In 2012 around 96 % of diesel cars and approximately 85 % of all trucks had a green sticker. To achieve this, some 60,000 diesel vehicles were retrofitted with particle filters. And there are only minor differences between the low-emission zone and the rest of the urban area of Berlin. Without the low-emission zone only around 80 % of diesel cars and 50 % of trucks would be awarded a green sticker.

The introduction of stage 2 achieved a reduction in emissions of diesel particles of more than half compared with the assumed trend, and nitrogen oxide emissions fell by around 20 %. This represents around 173 tonnes of diesel soot and 1,500 tonnes of nitrogen oxides less each year.

Without the reduction in pollutant emissions, air pollution with nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter PM10 would have been around 5 to 10 % higher. The reduction in additional particulate pollution along roads is of special significance for health protection. These higher levels of pollution compared with urban residential areas away from main traffic routes could be more than halved. As studies into the health risks posed by vehicle exhaust emissions in North Rhine-Westphalia have shown, the increased levels of pollution resulted in a significantly higher frequency of death from cardio-vascular diseases among residents. Their risk was almost 80 % higher than for people living more than 50 m from main traffic routes.
Please refer to the technical report by Wichmann et al. (pdf; 1.4 MB)

You can find further reports on the effects of the low-emission zone here: