Tackling car emissions

If everything goes according to plan, in less than one month new regulations on vehicle emissions will come into force. This is a relevant piece of legislation that addresses or tries to address some of the most upsetting environmental hazards we face, those arising from the bad quality of the air we breathe increasingly more often. More stringent standards may help and, if enforced properly, contribute to slowing down the observed degradation of air standards.
With the rise in the number of vehicles, tourists and population, the levels of congestion, noise and air pollution have increased. They have also made it more difficult to blame the air quality issues only, or mainly, on pollution imported from the Mainland. The worst days we have been through in recent months (or years) were in no small part very much locally ‘made’.
We suppose, given the seriousness of the issue for our quality of life and the repeated expressions of concern and commitment to those matters, that the Administration has reliable information on the sources and levels of air pollution in the region. We need to know how much of our local air quality problems are due to local factors and, among those, the vehicle emissions, and we need a baseline to monitor and measure the real impact of regulations.
Moreover, we have to think about other impacts of the enforcement. For instance, are there any estimates on how many of the current fleet will be knocked off the road, and what effect that will have on our transportation system? Inevitably, a lot will depend upon the intensity and methods of enforcement. Assuming the norms will be widely and fairly enforced, what are the policy targets?
Not long ago, we had an almost perfect example of how not to make and enforce supposedly ‘environmentally friendly’ regulations. Based on producers’ declared standards, some of which we know today were cheating when supplying the data, many vehicles were sold with significant tax deductions. Good for the sellers and buyers. But the net outcome of that policy was possibly increased congestion and pollution, as bigger numbers of big cars with bigger engines made it to the streets at subsidised prices.
Did the soon-to-be-enforced regulation learn from that experience, or is there a risk that its main outcome will be to induce higher sales of cars, with a less-than-noticeable effect upon air quality?