UPDATED: The City of Oslo, under state orders to beef up plans for cutting emissions in the Norwegian capital, was reportedly considering a ban Thursday morning on all vehicles fueled by both gasoline (petrol) and diesel by 2024. The goal is to improve air quality in the city that’s ringed by hills on three sides, but city leaders later shifted into reverse after quick public outcry.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that Oslo’s city government, currently led by the Labour, Greens and Socialist Left (SV) parties, was studying how to make Oslo’s central areas within its so-called “Ring 3” beltway free of fossil fuels over the next six year. NRK reported that a ban on fossil-fuelled vehicles was one of several measures to be presented on Thursday.
Lan Marie Nguyen Berg of the Green Party, the city’s controversial government leader in charge of environmental and transport issues, warned of even more new taxes and restrictions aimed at vehicular traffic in Oslo. She’s already been held largely responsible for the higher road tolls, elimination of street parking in favour of bicycle lanes, new fees and restrictions on the street parking that’s left, and heavy taxes on diesel-fuelled vehicles that are aimed at discouraging driving in the Norwegian capital. Now more tough restrictions loom.
“During the past two years (since winning the last election in late 2015) the city government has delivered most of the measures contained in the old plan (for cutting emissions),” Berg told NRK, “but even though we’ve done a lot, professional studies show that we must do more to reduce dangerous air pollution.”
The goal of a fossil-free central Oslo is also part of the city government’s declaration after Labour, SV and the Greens teamed up after the last election to form their government coalition. “What’s most important for the city government, as required by the state, is that we take care of folks’ health,” Berg said.
‘Will create enormous problems’
She and her city government colleagues immediately faced protests and opposition to their new plans, as they have on numerous earlier occasions as street parking disappeared also in residential neighbourhoods.
“If the city government really evaluates a total ban against gasoline- and diesel cars within Ring 3, it will be yet another measure that will create enormous problems in the everyday lives of very many people,” Eirik Lae Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party’s delegation on the Oslo City Council.
Solberg advised the city government to rely less on force and prohibitions and more on incentives for green alternatives. He noted that electric cars already made up 40 percent of all new car sales in Oslo in December, and their market share is rising.
“If we continue to (encourage) electric cars (which enjoy exemptions from tolls and parking fees, for example), all new cars will be zero-emission cars within a few years,” Solberg said.
Berg blames road traffic
Berg noted that “most of the air pollution in Oslo comes from road traffic,” arguing that both heavy trucks and ordinary cars using gasoline and diesel need to be targeted. In addition to plans to already charge higher tolls and taxes on heavy diesel truck next winter, Berg also seems keen on forcing owners of diesel cars to pay more than they do today.
By mid-afternoon, however, Berg’s boss Raymond Johansen, who leads the city government, was stepping on the brakes. He and his colleagues will still study how the city could become free of fossil-fueled cars, but he claimed no absolute ban would be imposed. Johansen felt compelled to send out a press release Thursday afternoon, in which he viewed the ban to which Berg had referred as being “completely not of current interest.”
Berg had also changed her tune in the press release. “I have asked for a study and for advice on how we can make the area inside Ring 3 fossil-free by 2024,” she wrote, adding that she would not be asking for an outright ban on all fossil-fueled vehicles.
Solberg thinks Berg and her colleagues should rather put more effort into demanding, for example, that ships berthed in Oslo Harbour plug into electricity instead of running their engines while in port. He also urged more incentives to reduce the use of studded snow tires in winter, which kick up a lot of road dust, and to offer more incentives for replacing wood-burning ovens with cleaner heating sources.