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Thousands March in Madrid to Ditch Traffic Restrictions Set Up to Improve Air Quality

Thousands marched through Madrid on Saturday to ask the Spanish capital's new mayor not to ditch ambitious traffic restrictions

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March, Madrid, Traffic
Demonstrators take part in a protest against Madrid's new conservative People's Party municipal government plans to suspend some anti-car emissions policies in the city center, June 29, 2019. VOA

Thousands marched through Madrid on Saturday to ask the Spanish capital’s new mayor not to ditch ambitious traffic restrictions in the center only recently set up to improve air quality.

“Madrid Central,” as it is called, was one of the measures that persuaded the European Commission not to take Spain to court last year over its bad air pollution in the capital and Barcelona, as it did with France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

“Fewer cars, better air” and “The new city hall seriously harms your health” were the messages on banners as protesters walked through the city’s center in 40-degree-Celsius heat.

The capital’s new conservative mayor, Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, made ditching “Madrid Central” a priority during his campaign, saying it had done nothing to ease pollution and only caused a nuisance for locals.

March, Madrid, Traffic
A woman takes part in a protest against Madrid’s new conservative People’s Party municipal government plans to suspend some anti-car emissions policies in the city center, June 29, 2019. VOA

But since he has taken power as part of a coalition with center-right party Ciudadanos, city officials have toned this down, saying the government is merely seeking to reform a system that does not work properly, having mistakingly handed out some fines.

When the system was launched in November, Madrid followed in the steps of other European cities such as London, Stockholm and Milan that have restricted traffic in their centers.

But while in these cases drivers can pay to enter such zones, Madrid went a step further, banning many vehicles from accessing the center altogether and fining them if they did.

These fines will be suspended from July 1 to the end of September as the new city hall team audits the system.

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For Beatriz Navarro, 44, a university biochemistry professor who took part in the march, the system is working fine.

“It’s a small seed … among everything that has to be done to slow down climate change,” she said.

In a statement, environmental group Ecologistas en Accion said “the levels of pollution from nitrogen dioxide (NO2) registered during May this year were lower than those of 2018 in all the [measuring] stations in the system.”

“In 14 of the 24 stations [in Madrid], the value registered in May 2019 was the lowest in the last 10 years.” (VOA)

Next Story

UN Confirms Madrid as New Location for Global Climate Meeting

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced Wednesday that he was canceling plans to host the meeting, as well as a summit

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UN, Madrid, Location
FILE - Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, pictured during a parliamentary session in September 2019, said Nov. 1 that U.N. confirmation that a climate summit would be held in his country in December was "excellent news." VOA

The United Nations global climate meeting next month will take place in Madrid rather than Chile, which had to bow out as host on short notice, officials said Friday. UN.

U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa said representatives of the body that organizes the annual conference had accepted Spain’s offer to host it in the country’s capital Dec. 2-13.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced Wednesday that he was canceling plans to host the meeting, as well as a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders, to focus on restoring security in his country following weeks of protests in which at least a dozen people have died.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s office offered Thursday to step in, sending delegates from around the world scrambling to change their travel plans.

UN, Madrid, Location
FILE – Environmental activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden addresses the Climate Action Summit in the U.N. General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Sept. 23, 2019. VOA

Sanchez, who is facing a national election Nov. 10, celebrated Friday’s decision.

“Excellent news: Madrid will host the global climate meeting from Dec. 2-13. Spain is already at work to guarantee its staging of COP25. Our government firmly keeps its commitment to lasting progress and a just ecological transition,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter.

Among those who were planning to attend the conference in Chile was Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, whose climate protests have helped inspire tens of thousands of mostly young people to take to the streets demanding greater efforts from world leaders.

The teenager made a high-profile crossing from England to New York by sailboat earlier this year and planned to travel overland to Santiago to speak at the meeting. Thunberg refuses to fly because of aviation’s big carbon footprint.

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A little help?

After the move to Madrid was confirmed Friday, Thunberg appealed for help.

“It turns out I’ve traveled half around the world, the wrong way,” she tweeted.

“Now I need to find a way to cross the Atlantic in November. … If anyone could help me find transport I would be so grateful,” she added.

UN, Madrid, Location
U.N. climate chief Patricia Espinosa said representatives of the body that organizes the annual conference had accepted Spain’s offer to host it in the country’s capital Dec. 2-13. Pixabay

Thunberg voiced regret about not being able to visit Central and South America as planned, saying she had been looking forward to doing so.

“But this is of course not about me, my experiences or where I wish to travel. We’re in a climate and ecological emergency,” she said.

The scale of the Madrid conference wasn’t immediately clear. More than 20,000 people attended last year’s climate conference in Katowice, Poland.

The 25th Conference of the Parties, or COP25, is meant to work out some of the remaining unresolved issues on the rules that countries must follow in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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The meetings have also become a venue for countries to announce new initiatives to respond to global warming. (VOA)