Mexico City to pilot radical Climate Action Programme

The capital of Mexico, whose air is one of the smoggiest in the world, is set to become the first city with its own climate action programme. The ambitious 2002-2010 Valley of Mexico Metropolitan Area Air Quality Improvement Programme, nicknamed Poraire III, will set a global precedent if it succeeds in its aim to reduce health expenditures through air quality management.

December 1, 2002
5 min read

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.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Short story: Syrenka
A short story by Kirsten Irving

Utopia: Industrial Workers Taking the Wheel
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry – and its lessons for today

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’

Utopia: Daring to dream
Imagining a better world is the first step towards creating one. Ruth Potts introduces our special utopian issue

Utopia: Room for all
Nadhira Halim and Andy Edwards report on the range of creative responses to the housing crisis that are providing secure, affordable housing across the UK

A better Brexit
The left should not tail-end the establishment Bremoaners, argues Michael Calderbank

News from movements around the world
Compiled by James O’Nions

Podemos: In the Name of the People
'The emergence as a potential party of government is testament both to the richness of Spanish radical culture and the inventiveness of activists such as Errejón' - Jacob Mukherjee reviews Errejón and Mouffe's latest release

Survival Shake! – creative ways to resist the system
Social justice campaigner Sakina Sheikh describes a project to embolden young people through the arts

‘We don’t want to be an afterthought’: inside Momentum Kids
If Momentum is going to meet the challenge of being fully inclusive, a space must be provided for parents, mothers, carers, grandparents and children, write Jessie Hoskin and Natasha Josette

The Kurdish revolution – a report from Rojava
Peter Loo is supporting revolutionary social change in Northern Syria.

How to make your own media
Lorna Stephenson and Adam Cantwell-Corn on running a local media co-op

Book Review: The EU: an Obituary
Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

Book Review: The End of Jewish Modernity
Author Daniel Lazar reviews Enzo Traverso's The End of Jewish Modernity

Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants
Ida-Sofie Picard introduces Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants – as told to Jenny Nelson

Book review: Angry White People: Coming Face to Face With the British Far-Right
Hilary Aked gets close up with the British far right in Hsiao-Hung Pai's latest release

University should not be a debt factory
Sheldon Ridley spoke to students taking part in their first national demonstration.

Book Review: The Day the Music Died – a Memoir
Sheila Rowbotham reviews the memoirs of BBC director and producer, Tony Garnett.

Power Games: A Political History
Malcolm Maclean reviews Jules Boykoff's Power Games: A Political History

Book Review: Sex, Needs and Queer Culture: from liberation to the post-gay
Aiming to re-evaluate the radicalism and efficacy of queer counterculture and rebellion - April Park takes us through David Alderson's new work.

A book review every day until Christmas at Red Pepper
Red Pepper will be publishing a new book review each day until Christmas

Book Review: Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics
'In spite of the odds Corbyn is still standing' - Alex Doherty reviews Seymour's analysis of the rise of Corbyn

From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation
'A small manifesto for black liberation through socialist revolution' - Graham Campbell reviews Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor's 'From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation'

The Fashion Revolution: Turn to the left
Bryony Moore profiles Stitched Up, a non-profit group reimagining the future of fashion

The abolition of Art History A-Level will exacerbate social inequality
This is a massive blow to the rights of ordinary kids to have the same opportunities as their more privileged peers. Danielle Child reports.

Mass civil disobedience in Sudan
A three-day general strike has brought Sudan to a stand still as people mobilise against the government and inequality. Jenny Nelson writes.

Mustang film review: Three fingers to Erdogan
Laura Nicholson reviews Mustang, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s unashamedly feminist film critique of Turkey’s creeping conservatism

What if the workers were in control?
Hilary Wainwright reflects on an attempt by British workers to produce a democratically determined alternative plan for their industry