Paris is known for taking progressive measures to fight climate change. In December of 2015, delegates from every nation gathered in the City of Light to create the historic COP21 climate accords. But in March of this year, the city suffered through a period of intense smog, during which the air over the city was dirtier than the air over Beijing and blotted out the view of the Eiffel Tower. Much of that smog was attributable to the exhaust emissions from conventional cars.
In response, the city of Paris put aggressive new procedures in place to limit the number of cars powered by internal combustion engines on its streets and eventually move beyond polluting cars. It has banned cars more than 20 years old, which have rudimentary pollution controls, from entering the city and instituted a plan that prohibited cars with license plates ending in even or odd numbers on alternating days. It also converted streets that used to run along the banks of the Seine into pedestrian walkways and bike paths.
October 1 was proclaimed “a day without cars” (something the city has trialled before), a move designed to make Paris “less polluted, more pleasant and more peaceful.” Nitrogen dioxide levels dropped 25%, and noise levels dropped an average of 20%. On the Champs-Élysées — one of the world’s busiest thoroughfares — noise levels dropped by 54%.
“Sensitizing residents to the need to modify their behavior towards the car was part of the objectives of this day,” the mayor’s office said in a statement, adding that it was also meant to be a symbol “that cities can and must invent concrete solutions to fight air pollution caused by traffic.”
Now the mayor of Paris has announced a plan that seeks to remove all gasoline and diesel powered vehicles from its streets by 2030. The plan is not a ban. Instead, it involves a series of investments and incentives designed to encourage citizens to leave their old fossil fuel–burning vehicles behind and switch to walking, bicycling, and using electric cars. The objective is to make Paris a carbon neutral city by 2050.
“We are seeing a revolution in terms of mobility and on the issue of climate,” Christophe Nadjovski, Paris deputy mayor in charge of transport and public space, told France Info Radio on Tuesday. “We can’t wait. This is about planning for the long term with a strategy that will reduce greenhouse gases. Transport is one of the main greenhouse gas producers … so we are planning an exit from combustion engine vehicles, or fossil-energy vehicles, by 2030.”
The mayor’s office released a statement after initial reports incorrectly labeled the new plan as a ban on conventional cars. “No measure of prohibition or sanction is included,” it said. “In order to achieve the goal of an end to the thermal engines in 2030, the City has decided to invest in the development of alternatives and in the reinforcement of financial aids that allow individuals and professionals to buy clean vehicles.” The proposed climate plan will be submitted to the Council of Paris for approval next month.
Most Paris residents do not own private automobiles. Instead, the rely on a comprehensive system of public transportation, bikesharing programs, carsharing, and taxis. The city’s plan is focused on convincing residents to rethink their commitment to getting around the city by car and adopt a lifestyle that contributes much less atmospheric pollution to their daily lives.