State joins 10-year program that reduced air pollution in Mexico City

The core committee of ProAire Yucatán includes Seduma’s Eduardo Adolfo Batllori Sampedro and Semarnat’s Ana Patricia Martínez Bolívar. Photo: Courtesy

Mérida, Yucatán — State environmental officials have signed on to a 10-year plan to improve air quality.

It’s the same plan that vastly reduced the air pollution problem in Mexico City, which in 1992 the United Nations called the most polluted city on the planet.

A series of comprehensive programs, called ProAire, brought impressive reductions in CO2 emissions and air particles to the nation’s capital.

In a simple presentation Tuesday, environmental agencies Seduma and Semarnat established a ProAire program for Yucatán.

Officials warned that Yucatan has air quality issues in Mérida, Valladolid, Progreso, Motul, Ticul and Tizimín, which in the future can bring a serious pollution problem in the state if it is not addressed in time.

During the installation of the core committee of the Management Program to Improve Air Quality in Yucatan 2018 – 2027, the head of the Seduma, Eduardo Batllori Sampedro, stressed that the main cause of this type of pollution is the number of motor vehicles that exist in the state.

The ProAire program gives the state access to federal funding sources to pay for a 10-year effort aimed at reducing the release of particles into the atmosphere.

Among the measures are the strengthening of state industrial regulation and control of emissions into the atmosphere from the electricity generation sector.

ProAire now extends to 11 cities nationwide.

How Mexico City did it

As Mexico City’s economy grew in the 1980s and ’90s, the sharp rise in emissions from transport and industry landed its capital the unenviable accolade of world’s most polluted city. Then, in 1996, city and regional governments introduced the celebrated ProAire, which harnessed both civil society and business interests to tackle the problem.

The ProAire package of reforms managed to bring Mexico City’s air pollution down from a dangerously high rating of 300 on its Metropolitan Air Quality Index (Imeca) in the 1980s, to more recent averages of less than 150.

Whereas once levels of ozone hovered around 500 parts per billion (ppb), they now range between 120 and 150 ppb.

In 1986, Mexican officials named 21 different measures to tackle the air pollution crisis. At this time, natural gas began to replace fuel oil in industry and in thermoelectric power generation in the Valley of Mexico – which comprises Mexico City, the federal district of Mexico and the states of Morelos, Puebla, Tlaxcala and Hidalgo. Local governments also began to register air quality more systematically.

In 1988 the general law of ecological balance and environmental protection (LGEEPA in Spanish) established that federal authorities must execute emissions reduction programs in areas under their jurisdiction. Meanwhile, state governments had to outline their own programs to improve air quality and submit them to the ministry of environment and natural resources (Semarnat).

As part of a new, broader survey of emissions, the law also obligated local authorities to implement programs verifying those from transport, the largest emitting sector in metropolitan areas in the Valley of Mexico. In 1989, city and regional governments introduced the Hoy No Circula (Cars Don’t Circulate) program, which restricted a fifth of all vehicles on rotating days between Monday and Friday, depending on the last number on a vehicle’s registration plate.

Proaire’s precursor included the collection and publication of mathematic and photochemical analyses which showed very high levels of pollutants in the blood, especially in children. This prompted a widespread social mobilization led by green groups, which organized protests and demanded inclusion in public fora on air quality.

Air quality in Yucatán is being addressed with a 10-year program that was effective for Mexico City. Photo: La Jornada Maya

The governments of Mexico City and the federal district then advanced joint measures to tackle pollution through the newly-created Metropolitan Environment Commission, known today as CAMe.

Proaire also applied new restrictions on fuels, which limited vapor pressure, olefins and aromatics, benzene and sulphur, following which Pemex introduced a premium fuel. It also established management plans for protected natural areas in Mexico City and the metropolitan area.

In 2001 and 2011, the second and third phases of ProAire oversaw the renovation of Mexico City’s fleet of taxis and minibuses, the creation of the Metrobús network and further expansion of the Metro.

Warnings advised citizens to stay indoors during the day and restrict vehicle use. In the 1980s the Mexican capital spent most of the time on high alert. Now, warnings are issued just three or four times a year.

Among the issues that ProAire still has to clamp down on are the widespread use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG or propane) in metropolitan areas, ongoing traffic congestion and the persistence of PM2.5 and PM10, which are difficult to control.

Source: Punto Medio, Diario de Yucatán, China Dialogue

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