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How Spain’s new low-emission zones will affect drivers

In 2023, drivers in most towns and cities across Spain will only be able to access, drive and park in certain areas if their vehicles meet the new low emission standards. Here's what you need to know and whether your car is likely to be affected.

How Spain's new low-emission zones will affect drivers
Authorities in Spanish municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants and high air pollution levels can also introduce the new measures. Photo: Raimond Klavins/Unsplash

As part of the Spanish government’s climate change and energy transition legislation, a series of low-emission zones (Zonas de Bajas Emisiones, ZBE) will be introduced across the country on January 1st 2023.

The aim is to reduce air pollution in Spain’s urban areas and by 2050 have a fleet of cars and light commercial vehicles without direct carbon dioxide emissions, in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The new rules will apply to municipalities with more than 50,000 inhabitants, which number 149 across the Spanish territory.

Authorities in municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants and high air pollution levels will also have to introduce the new measures.

These low-emission zones will restrict access, circulation and parking for more polluting vehicles, although town and city halls will have a certain degree of autonomy as to how they apply the new rules.

ZBE areas will be marked with signs such as the ones seen below, which already exist in cities such as Madrid and Barcelona. 

Road signs marking low-emission zones in Madrid.

How do I know if my car is allowed in low-emission zones?

Your vehicle’s emission badge or sticker will determine this.

Currently, there are four DGT environmental labels to categorise vehicles according to their impact on the environment. These are:

Zero (0) emissions (blue sticker): includes most efficient vehicles, electric cars, hydrogen-powered cars and pluggable hybrids.

ECO (green and blue sticker): includes natural gas and hybrid vehicles.

C (green sticker): includes petrol cars and vans registered after January 2006, and diesel cars registered after January 2015.

B (yellow sticker): includes petrol cars and vans registered since January 2001, and diesel cars registered since January 2006.

Cars that are not eligible for a sticker are classified as ‘A’. These are petrol vehicles that were manufactured before 2001 or diesel vehicles manufactured before 2006. They cannot be used in Spain’s existing ZBEs as they’re considered too polluting, and it is unlikely they will be allowed in future ZBEs. However, classic cars classified as “históricos” will be allowed in ZBEs.

If you don’t know your car’s emissions classification, don’t worry, if you visit the DGT website here and type in your vehicle’s registration number you will be able to find out what emissions classification it has. 

Only Zero and Eco vehicles will be able to completely avoid all restrictions in Spain’s new low-emission urban areas.

B and C label vehicles will have certain limitations which will be determined by city and town halls, as the national government has not set specific rules that apply across Spain.

For example, a B vehicle may be able to access a low-emission zone but may not have full access, need to be a resident, require an invite from a resident or be forced to park in specific areas.

The Spanish government has also suggested the idea of introducing an urban toll for certain drivers who want to enter a ZBE, based on their vehicle’s classification. Barcelona authorities are currently considering charging drivers who enter low-emission zones €4 a day.

Should I get an emission sticker for my vehicle?

Yes, it would be advisable for you to do this as soon as possible as Madrid and Barcelona, where low-emission zones already exist, fine drivers who don’t have one with the help of cameras around the city.

Spain’s postal service Correos issues them at a cost of €5. You will have to bring your ID, driving licence and your vehicle’s documents for safety’s sake.

You can also buy them on the DGT website here for €6.50.

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Spanish reservoirs fill up to highest level since last May

After one of the worst droughts in Spain this summer, the good news is that the country’s reservoirs are filling up again and are now already at 50 percent of their capacity.

Spanish reservoirs fill up to highest level since last May

The water levels of Spanish reservoirs continue to rise and are already at 50.9 percent of their capacity, the latest data reveals, a figure that has not been seen since May 2022.

Storms and rainfall in recent weeks have caused water reserves to increase to 28,533 cubic hectometres.

Statistics show water levels have risen for the seventh consecutive week and continue to improve on the previous week too. 

There is also a great improvement compared to the same week of 2022, when the capacity was only at 45.19 percent. 

The current figure has, in fact, almost reached the average of the last 10 years, which amounts to 56.69 percent capacity.

Asturias is the region that has benefitted from the recent rains the most and the capacity of its reservoirs currently stands at 92.76 percent.

This is followed by its neighbour Galicia where levels are currently at 88.6 percent. In third place is the Basque Country where reservoirs have reached 68.05 percent capacity. 

This lies in stark contrast to the south of Spain where levels are still very low. The capacity of the reservoirs in Murcia is only at 25.68 percent and in Andalusia it’s only 29.75 percent.

The latest report from the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge shows that many of the country’s drainage basins are also recovering with Galicia Costa at 94.9 percent, Cantábrico Occidental at 91 percent and Miño-Sil, also in Galicia, at 84.2 percent. 

The much-needed rainfall has affected the entire peninsula in the last couple of weeks with the maximum recorded in Santander of 182.2 millimeters. 

Last summer, regions across Spain suffered from the lack of water and reserves fell to 39 percent, the lowest percentage since 1995.

However, a further study published by the Nature Geoscience journal claimed that the summer droughts of 2022 left parts of the Iberian peninsula at their driest in 1,200 years.