Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Some 35 per cent of Mexico City’s 18 million residents suffer from air pollution. According to the Washington-based World Resources Institute, some 6,400 people die of particulate pollution – from road dust, diesel soot, wood smoke and metallic particles – annually in the Mexico City metropolitan area.
“That message should be taken into account when international leaders seek consensus on the contentious issue of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming,” says Victor Borja, an award-winning research scientist at the federal government Health Secretariat and co-author of a study into the problem. The Kyoto Protocol featured prominently in discussions to devise an implementation plan for the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg earlier this year.
Controlling greenhouse gases will “diminish the risk of respiratory or acute cardiovascular illnesses for people in areas where pollutants are most directly emitted, as well as improving their quality of life,” Borja explains.
He is part of a huge interdisciplinary team working on the Integrated Programme on Urban, Regional and Global Air Pollution, which was initiated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, in 1999 by chemists Luisa T. Molina and Mario Molina, a Mexico City native and Nobel laureate.
It was this team’s research on Mexico City that provided the scientific basis for Proaire III – constituting an expansion on two previous short-term Proaires. Proaire III calls for $14.7 billion of approximately equal parts of public and private investment in 89 projects to achieve reductions of 18 per cent in suspended particulates produced from car fuel, 16 per cent in sulphur dioxide, 26 per cent in carbon monoxide, 43 per cent in nitrogen dioxide and 17 per cent in hydrocarbons.
“Reduction of 10 per cent in particulates alone could lower the number of premature deaths in the metropolitan area by 2,000 a year,” Mario Molina estimates. Children are among the heaviest sufferers of air pollution. Antonio Estrada Garduña, an 11-year-old asthma sufferer, learned at an early age how to vomit the phlegm that blocks his respiratory tubes when greenhouse gases in the local smog trigger an allergic reaction. His coughing bouts strike terror in his mother.
“It’s not a normal fear. It’s a really big fear that one has,” says Rosa María Garduna. “One can die from asphyxiation, get pneumonia, or drown trying to stick out their tongue.” Sufferers like Antonio could benefit from the government programme: achieving compliance with federal air quality standards for particulates and ozone will generate up to $4 billion worth of benefits annually in avoided deaths, illnesses, lost-time at work and associated expenses, Borja says.
“Human health has been the centre of these measures,” declared State of Mexico Ecology Secretary Martha Hilda Gonzalez, acting president of the Metropolitan Environmental Commission, in announcing Proaire III. Half the measures are for improvements in transport, including replacing a fleet of about 30,000 old, smoke-belching micro-buses with new, larger buses using cleaner fuel. Proaire has asked the national oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) to make available low-sulphur gasoline and diesel by 2006.
The programme also calls for the valley’s 35,000 industrial and power plants to improve their efficiency and burn less polluting materials such as natural gas. It recommends adoption of local zoning regulations, control of squatter settlements, natural resource conservation and environmental education in schools.
Borja and the other researchers from various countries who developed the scientific underpinning for the plan intend for it to serve as a global model. “What we learn here we can apply certainly to other developing countries, but also even perhaps in the United States or Europe,” Molina says.
Perhaps the first lesson is that even a scientifically-based air quality management programme will not work without political and administrative mechanisms. “Everything Molina is proposing was proposed 15 years ago,” says Ivan Restrepo, director of the nonprofit Center for Eco-Development. “What we need is political decisions, which have not been made.” For example, limits on particulates and ozone were established but never enforced.
The three levels of government (city, state and federal) involved in the Metropolitan Environmental Commission, each administered by a different political party, have trouble cooperating. They have failed to act on the Molina team’s preliminary recommendations to overcome this problem by making the commission independent – with its own budget, staff and rules – and by increasing stakeholder participation. The commission’s instructions are falling on deaf ears.
Environment Secretary Claudia Sheinbaum has slammed the federal treasury department for failing to reinstitute a fuel tax that Proaire stipulates for funding the commission’s work. In addition, transportation authorities are not integrated in the effort. Like Mexican officials, representatives of other countries interested in implementing the health and environmental agenda at the Johannesburg summit have the message of Borja’s study to keep in mind.
Simply by taking measures to reduce particulate matter and ozone, countries “can provide considerable local air pollution-related public health benefits,” says the study. But the Mexican experience shows that mechanisms for political cooperation remain a challenge to effective implementation.Talli Nauman writes for the Panos Institute www.panos.org.uk where a version of this article was first published.
Drawing connections between events as disparate as the ‘social murder’ of Grenfell and recent mudslides in Sierra Leone, Remi Joseph-Salisbury points to the enduring relevance of Pan African thought for anti-racist struggle today.
We work ourselves into the ground for little economic benefit. It's high time to for a change, writes Aidan Harper.
Deregulation and tax loopholes are justified by saying that they 'protect growth'. But really, they just protect the wealthy, writes James Fox
Inequality is often treated as a law of nature - but really, it's the result of conscious political choices. It's time to choose equality, writes the IPPR's Carys Roberts.
Tom Palmer, aka Agent Kingfisher, was the 'messiah' of London's squatting scene until his death last year. But who was responsible for his fate? MI5, late capitalism or simply a drug overdose? Matt Broomfield investigates.
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright