(Cross-Posted with Permission of EstePaís) – The atmospheric crisis through the Valley of Mexico reminds us of those episodes of the ones in the early 1990s that alarmed the population and the authorities for the high concentrations of pollutants in the city’s air. There are many factors that have contributed to this new crisis, many of them related to the weakening institutions in charge of air quality in the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico, the lack of metropolitan coordination, the lack of scientific solvency regarding new measures taken, and the wrong modification of vehicle verification programs, Hoy No Circula and the detonation of atmospheric contingencies.
If one refers to the journalistic information and the solutions that are currently being proposed to solve the crisis, it seems that the city’s atmospheric contingency, which had not been presented for 14 years (2002), may take one by surprise. But if there is a public policy that has had more than two decades of effective and long-term programs, it is precisely the improvement of air quality.
These programs constitute important exceptions to what is customary in our country: they contain proposed measures with a technical and scientific basis, which have gone through participatory planning processes, which are projected over the long term (10 years), agreed by all government orders Involved in the air quality management of the MCMA, and which have also been systematically monitored and evaluated during the last 25 years. Since its implementation, which has not been simple or absent from conflicts and challenges, the ZMVM went from having 43 days with good air quality in ozone during the year 2000, to have 248 days during the year 2012, a figure that Has not been possible to achieve again in the last three years.
It is important to mention that the first generations of measures to combat air pollution, although they were not easy to implement (such as closing the Refinery March 18, devising and executing the Today No Circulation Program and Compulsory Vehicle Verification, Automatic Atmospheric Monitoring System, or generate the corresponding normativity), were quite simple to identify. A dozen of them were enough to have a major impact on improving air quality. With only the removal of lead from gasoline, this is practically eliminated, which is one of the six criteria pollutants. However, having a high beneficial impact on air quality from a few measures, is almost impossible at present. Today, it is necessary to implement several dozens of measures aimed at controlling very different processes, types and sources of pollutants, in order to achieve a perceptible impact.
What is surprising is that the current authorities have – without explanation – abandoned the current Program to Improve Air Quality of the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico 2011 – 2020 (Proaire) and are refounding institutions that were quite functional as the Metropolitan Environmental Commission (CAM), and brainstorming to deal with the atmospheric crisis.
Every time there is a situation of crisis like the present one, logically the questions are reactivated to the decisions of the authorities, some good, some frankly very wrong, and resurgent the proposals of scientific and social groups.
Below, we will analyze the 2011-2020 Proaire and other relevant proposals that have emerged from the contingency of March 14, 2016, and outline some of the solutions that we consider most pressing.
The Proaire 2011-2020
Building a medium-term metropolitan program (10 years) requires significant evaluation, research and prospecting. To prepare the Proaire 2011-2020, the Governments of the Metropolitan Environmental Commission (CAM) commissioned the work of a scientific team composed of independent professionals accompanied by the expert technicians of the federal and local agencies competent in the matter. To develop it, during 2010 and 2011, forums, workshops, round tables and participatory planning processes were held, bringing together civil society organizations, academic and research institutions, experts, private companies and various areas of all government orders , Who contributed their knowledge and experiences to the construction of the Program.
The Proaire 2011-2020 presents very innovative features: it places the health issue as one of its strategic axes, adopts an ecosystem approach that integrates all the ecological, political and cultural aspects involved in air quality, identifying urban, economic and Social aspects of the proposed measures to combat air pollution, and nourishes the program with ideas and measures that go beyond the punctual control of polluting sources, presenting new alternatives to attack the phenomenon in a structural way.
The Proaire 2011-2020 contains a thorough description of the impacts of air pollution on the health of the population of the ZMVM; Analyzes the emission inventories collected over time and describes in detail all sources of air pollution in the region; Presents an accurate diagnosis of the current air quality situation in the MCMA and reviews other experiences of air quality management at the national and international levels. It also compiles the progress achieved in the last 20 years in the policy of improving air quality year by year; Explains the ecosystem concept of the new program, from which the structural dynamics of the city allows to simulate emission scenarios taking into account the interrelations between phenomena to identify the best actions to be performed; And proposes 8 strategies, 81 measures and 116 actions to be carried out (see Table 1).
For each proposed action, the program establishes a specific objective, defines the actors responsible for its implementation, describes the ecosystemic integration of the measure (relating the impacts of its implementation from different angles, establishing the cause and effect relationship of each one). Justification and description of the measure, proposes a timetable for implementation, estimates the expected benefits of implementing the measure and calculates the cost of investment required. There is no other proposal in the field that has such a degree of precision.
The Proaire 2011-2020 was presented in December 2011 and was planned to continue the trend of improvement of air quality achieved in the past 20 years, in order to get closer to the goal of having 100% of the days with Good air quality in the ZMVM.
During the first year of its implementation in 2012, more than 20 actions were carried out in the Federal District, including various studies, the expansion of sustainable transport systems, the evaluation of programs, the improvement of vehicle verification systems and the Participation in the development of new standards (see Table 2). On June 5, 2012, the governments of the Federal District, the State of Mexico and the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources signed a coordination agreement for the implementation of the Proaire 2011-2020 within the CAM.
With the arrival of the new federal and Mexico City administrations in December 2012, the corresponding thing was to review the program, select a package of measures to be implemented, and agree to be executed jointly by the new administrations. This did not happen. Al Proaire 2011-2020 replaced the cover by placing the logos of the new authorities, eliminated the credits of the previous officials who made it, and put in their place the names of the new authorities, but then they left.
During 2013, 2014 and 2015 the only references made to the Program were given in the context of explanatory statements for the erratic modifications to the Program Today No Circula. With the repeal of the Metropolitan Environmental Commission and the creation of the new Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis (CAMe), the Program was not incorporated into the new institution that from 2013 included the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala. In fact, the 2011-2020 Proaire is not even mentioned as a CAMe reference document. Had it continued its implementation, by the end of this year 2016 the program would have to have a 50% progress in its implementation.
Bottom solutions to improve air quality in the Valley of Mexico: Mario Molina Center, May 2016
The Mario Molina Center has done many years of analysis and strategic studies to improve air quality in the ZMVM and has collaborated with the federal government and local governments in the elaboration of plans and programs in this area. Given the atmospheric crisis that the City faced with the appearance of continuous ozone atmospheric contingencies in the ZMVM between March and May, the Mario Molina Center published a proposal for “Bottom Solutions to Improve Air Quality in the Valley of Mexico.” In it, it calls on the authorities to avoid unique or magical solutions, and resort to comprehensive packages of measures that can attack the relevant sources of pollution. This recommendation is likely to arise from the fact that the measures adopted so far have been isolated and lack technical and social coherence.
One of the most controversial aspects of the document is that the suggestions are not aligned with the new model of megalopolitan air quality management (CAMe approach involving EdoMex, CDMX, Hidalgo, Puebla, Morelos and Tlaxcala), but which are addressed exclusively to the entities that make up the Metropolitan Zone, in particular the State of Mexico, Mexico City and the federal government, according to their respective powers.
The document has an updated diagnosis and very relevant recommendations. Among them, the need to develop at least 40 kilometers per year of mass public transport systems in the ZMVM, integrating the systems of Mexico City and the State of Mexico. This represents a very important management and financing effort, which at least during the previous administration (2006-2012) in the Federal District exceeded that pace, since only in Mexico City was built an average of 30 kilometers of public transportation structured by year.
The Center urges the authorities to retake the previous vehicle verification model (which operated from 2008 to 2014) associated with the age of the vehicle (and not only the emissions determined by the vehicle verification centers) to encourage the renewal of the vehicle fleet ; Proposes to retake the School Transport Program and expand it to the State of Mexico; And even suggests a rethinking of the pertinence of the vehicle verification, because before the constant corruption that is presented it would be advisable to “evaluate the suitability of maintaining the vehicle verification in the terms in which it is currently applied” and suggests to migrate gradually to a model of monitoring of Emissions through remote sensors on the road by applying fines in case of detecting vehicles that exceed the standards, instead of forcing vehicle verification twice a year.
However, the document is relevant because it suggests interesting financing mechanisms that can be explored to implement the measures; Has the purpose of establishing the differences between the transportation situation and the air quality management in Mexico City and the State of Mexico, where the circumstances and capacities are very different; And clearly establishes the priorities that governments must establish.
However, the proposal has some omissions:
• It does not evaluate the effects of CAM dismantling nor the implications of the creation of the CAMe in the weakening of air quality management.
• Does not consider the use of the bicycle as an important alternative, and does not even mention the Ecobici Individual Transportation System or the need to expand it.
• Does not assume that the mistaken decision to generalize the Supreme Court’s decision to grant relief to those who disagreed about obtaining the Hologram 2 for the model year of its vehicle (2000 motorists), omitted the existing corruption for the Obtaining the Hologram 0, and caused the incorporation of 1 million 700 thousand cars to the daily circulation in the second half of 2015.
• It does not mention the importance of expanding measures to combat air pollution to the conurbated municipality of the State of Hidalgo.
• It does not account for the time restriction that was established by the DF for the transportation of cargo in the Historical Center in 2011.
• The Center recognizes the support of experts and relevant stakeholders in its research over time but does not recognize the important and ongoing support and funding it has received from federal and local governments.
• It does not make a concrete proposal for the restructuring of the Hoy No Circula Program, a fundamental aspect in the current situation.
• And finally, it does not take into account, nor as a reference, the 2011-2020 Proaire.
Proposed immediate action for the improvement of air quality in the megalopolis of the Scientific Advisory Council of the Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis
Before the atmospheric contingency of March 2016, there had been no mention of the Scientific Advisory Board (CEC) of the Environmental Commission of the Megalopolis (CAMe). Even today there are no references of this institution on the CAMe website, although recent meetings and work have been public to advise megalopolitan governments on how to deal with the atmospheric crisis.
With the absence of the Mario Molina Center, which apparently also forms an integral part of the CCA, this autonomous group of organizations prepared, at the request of the CAMe, a “proposal for immediate action to improve air quality in the megalopolis”. This proposal has the virtue of hierarchizing the most important measures and establishing five general proposals and 32 lines of action to deal with the atmospheric crisis of the megalopolis. Although most of the measures in this document are also included in the Proaire 2011-2020, and in this document no reference is made to this Program, the immediate action proposal establishes the most urgent actions To be developed and specifies in more detail some of the measures.
In terms of transport, which is the specialty of most of its members, the proposal has the virtue of being quite precise and accurately identify the actions to be carried out in the short and medium term. It should not be overlooked that mobile sources continue to generate 95% of CO and 78% of NOx, as well as a third of PM10 and PM2.5, and SO2, which are precursors to the generation of ozone (O3), a Contaminant that has been the reason for the contingency and very difficult to control.
However, the organization of proposals based on the identification of fixed and mobile sources of pollution results in the omission of important measures that do not have to do precisely with the control of sources, but with the organization of the city and with the promotion of Non-motorized mobility.
The proposal is not ambitious with regard to the funds that should be allocated to the improvement of public transport, as it proposes a fund of 6,000 million pesos for the six states, which will be insufficient in the face of the challenge of the transport revolution Required in all six states. The proposal is addressed to the entire megalopolis, although the proposed measures do not take into account the abysmal differences that exist between entities such as Morelos or Tlaxcala and Mexico City, not only in their size and capacities but above all in their needs and priorities . It seems that the measures are generalized to the megalopolis, but in fact it is diagnosed and recommended thinking of the metropolis, that is to say, in the Valley of Mexico.
In conclusion, it is paradoxical that, with a comprehensive and coherent long-term program to improve air quality in the MCMA, disregard of the institutional instrument par excellence, backed by legal agreements and prepared by the same experts who are now participating in The generation of emerging proposals.
The critical situation of the quality of the air of the ZMVM caused by the absurd return of more than 1 million 700 thousand vehicles that before the second half of 2015 carried hologram 2, and during the second half of 2015 they migrated to the daily circulation from Illegitimate mechanisms to obtain the Hologram 0 (which of course are not unknown and have been very difficult to eradicate), has forced the authorities to generalize the program Hoy No Circula for 4 months and to issue an emerging standard of vehicle verification. This new standard is very complex and better than the previous one, however, in my opinion it is not intended to eradicate the vices that are given in vehicle verification, nor to solve the mess in which vehicular traffic is currently. The new NOM-EM-167-SEMARNAT-2016, which came into effect on July 1, includes stricter emission limits than the previous one, but reverts back to previous vehicle dynamic verification systems in 2006, incorporating modern On-board diagnostics (called OBD) for later cars, which are the least polluting.
It will be the next administrations, in its beginnings, that could implement it. The Fund will have to be managed with extreme transparency and accountability, and of course 100% apply to transport systems (not to salaries, bureaucracy or other needs, however urgent). In this way, after 2 or 3 years in which the ZMVM sees growth and significantly improve its mobility, citizens will be positively evaluating the measure.
• Expand the Ecobici Individual Transportation System, which currently serves more than 35 thousand daily users, which is equivalent to a Metrobus line.
• Design an integrated personal transport program with the private sector.
• Promote the simplification of face-to-face procedures and support the dissemination and mass use of technologies to avoid unnecessary travel.
• Support and encourage the private sector to implement work-at-home strategies, relocation of employees of large commercial chains to more branches
• The ZMVM urgently requires a strategic urban-environmental development plan that orders growth with a vision of sustainability to promote the redensification of areas with high quality services, and avoid long distance travel.