Smog-sick Italians to ban sales of petrol cars

Posted: 26 April 2002

Italy's Lombardy region, one of the industrial powerhouses of Europe, is planning to ban the sale of new petrol- and diesel-powered cars as part of a unique and ambitious clean air programme unveiled by the region's president, writes Phillip Willan.

Driven by a smog emergency caused by two months without rain, Roberto Formigoni has challenged car manufacturers to come up with alternative "green" vehicles to meet a deadline in three years.

"I would like to set a date that is as near as possible, and I think January 1 2005 would be suitable and I have sent the message: car-makers, get cracking," Mr Formigoni told the Guardian.

"I have issued a big challenge to the markets and the car manufacturers. We have been talking about environmentally friendly vehicles for decades, but the sector has never taken off."

The regional capital, Milan, and other northern cities have already been forced to ban cars at the weekend and restrict their use during the week because of levels of atmospheric pollution as much as five times the legal limit.

Lombardy's 9m inhabitants produce much of Italy's national wealth, but their economic activities and the movement of about 4m cars on the roads generate a cloud of microscopic pollution particles that, in still and rainless weather, becomes trapped between the Appenine mountains and the Alps.

Air pollution is blamed for chronic respiratory problems and lung cancer, and about 180 people in the region die every year from pollution-related illnesses.

Mr Formigoni, a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, aims to tackle the emergency by improving the environmental performance of private vehicles, replacing traditional oil-based fuels with electricity, gas and hydrogen.

The initiative is the first of its kind in Europe and seeks to promote the kind of environmental awareness found in California, where administrators hope to have 10 per centof cars running on hydrogen by 2004.

Philip Willan is The Guardian correspondent in Rome.

Source: The Guardian, Febuary 2, 2002.