MARTHA DELGADO PERALTA ‘s COLUMN: MEXICO: Errors of Atmospheric Contingency – PART II

Delgado Peralta: "There are many factors that contribute to this new environmental crisis, many of them related to weakening institutions." Photo (c) Fundacion Pensar 2012Delgado Peralta: "There are many factors that contribute to this new environmental crisis, many of them related to weakening institutions." Photo (c) Fundacion Pensar 2012

(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

Photo (c) C40 2013

The Proaire 2011-2020 presents very innovative features. Photo (c) C40 2013

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

Photo (c) Foro Ambiental Mexico 2016

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.” Photo (c) Foro Ambiental Mexico 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.

What to Do?
There are many factors that contribute to this new environmental crisis, many of them related to weakening institutions. Photo (c) 2016

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. Photo (c) 2016

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.

This standard establishes emissions limits that give heavy vehicles and polluting, high displacement cars, to obtain values admitted for daily circulation. This is one of the great omissions of this new rule, which should have taken into account that the number of heavy-duty vehicles with high cylinder capacity is growing dramatically in the country. A study by the Center for Research and Budgetary Policy (CIEP, 2012) shows that the share of subcompact cars went from 40% of sales in 2003, to 30% in 2010, and cars with larger engines and with Higher pollutant emissions (such as SUVs) accounted for 38% of sales in that year. Neither the new vehicle verification nor the Hoy No Circula Program have taken note of this situation, which has important implications for the city’s air quality.
Unchanged in the Hoy No Circula program, which returned to its early 2016 version (where the hologram received depends on the emissions and not on the model year of the vehicle), the last word will continue to have vehicle verification centers, which Have not been able to, nor can they get into the waist. It is essential to think of new, more transparent vehicle verification instruments, and in a Today No Circulation Program that will take up the initial spirit for the renewal of the vehicle fleet. For example, non-OBDII vehicles would have to rest one day a week and one Saturday a month, as it was before 2014, and the No-Circulate car before 2008 would have to be a Saturday a month, not every Saturday. Owners of cars without OBD could invest in the correct maintenance of the vehicle, which should be randomly checked on the road through remote sensors, as has already been proposed by the Mario Molina Center.
Public Transport and its Financing
Photo (c) Transporte Mexico 2015

The best incentive to stop using so many cars is to have the option of better public transportation. Photo (c) Transporte Mexico 2015

As has been established both in the 2011-2020 Proaire and in the solutions proposed by the Mario Molina Center and the CAMe Scientific Advisory Committee, the ZMVM requires as a top priority to revolutionize its public transport systems urgently and quickly. The creation of clean, efficient and safe pubic transportation systems requires an annual investment of just between 6 and 10 billion pesos for the ZMVM, if we are to advance faster than road and atmospheric collapse. The best incentive to stop using so many cars is to have the option of better public transportation, and this has been demonstrated with the efficient operation of Metrobús and Ecobicis, where between 25 and 30% of its users own a particular car.
That Fund will not be obtained from pleading for resources to the federal government each year. The best way to integrate it is from implementing fiscal instruments such as green tenure. With a vehicle park of 5.5 million vehicles in the ZMVM, a tax model based on emissions and engine size as it exists in England, Japan or Germany, would raise the necessary funds to finance that revolution in the transport in a sustained way. Of course this is not an easy measure to adopt. I do not see in the present authorities either the will or the political height that is required to make these kinds of determinations that are unpopular, but these are very necessary.

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.

Structural Changes

Photo (c) El Pais 2016

These measures are characterized by not being expensive, but require a great vision and political will, as well as a highly professional team: Photo (c) El Pais 2016

Finally, in order to protect the health of the inhabitants of the center of the country, and to achieve better results, not only in improving air quality but also in the mobility and quality of life of the population, “Ant” mode, added together can structurally transform the desires of travel and the organization of mobility in the city.
These measures are characterized by not being expensive, but require a great vision and political will, as well as a highly professional team:
• Continue the compulsory School Transport Program and extend it to the State of Mexico.
• 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.
[1] Ver “Delgado, Martha. (2016). “Los Errores de la Contingencia Atmosférica”. En EstePaís, No. 304. Agosto de 2016. (p. 8-15).
[2] Los contaminantes criterio son el conjunto de contaminantes que mayores efectos dañinos tienen sobre la salud humana:  Dióxido de Azufre (SO2), Bióxido de Nitrógeno (NO2), partículas o material particulado (MP), Plomo (Pb), Monóxido de Carbono (CO), Compuestos Orgánicos Volátiles (COV), Compuestos Orgánicos Totales (COT) y Ozono (O3).
[3] El Centro Mario Molina define al transporte público estructurado como “todo sistema que tenga alta capacidad de movilización de pasajeros, que cubra grandes distancias en corto tiempo, y que asegure su calidad con atributos tales como rapidez, seguridad, confiabilidad y comodidad, como el tren suburbano, el Metro, el tren ligero, el Metrobús y el Mexibús (p. 3).
[4] “Soluciones de fondo para mejorar la calidad del aire en el Valle de México”, Centro Mario Molina, Mayo de 2016, p.10.
[5] El Centro de Estudios sobre Equidad y Desarrollo (AEQUUM), el Centro de Transporte Sustentable Embarq-México, Conservación Internacional, la Iniciativa Climática de México, el Instituto Mexicano del Petróleo, el Instituto Politécnico Nacional, el Instituto de Políticas para el transporte y el Desarrollo y el Dr. Juan Carlos Belausteguigoitia.
[6] Inventario de Emisiones de la CDMX 2014 (2014). Secretaría del Medio Ambiente. Gobierno de la Ciudad de México, p. 97. Nota: Aunque el título del inventario de emisiones indica que las emisiones inventariadas son de la CDMX, el inventario que se reporta es de la Zona Metropolitana del Valle de México (sin incluir al Estado de Hidalgo).
[6] “Propuesta de un instrumento para disminuir las emisiones de gases de efecto invernadero del parque de vehículos ligeros de pasajeros en México”. Documento elaborado para la Dirección de Economía Ambiental del Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático (INECC). Octubre de 2012. (pp. 18 a 27).

About the Author

Martha Delgado Peralta
Martha Delgado Peralta is a Columnist at Pulsamerica, based in Mexico. She is "one of the few environmentalists who participates in political society in Mexico, and is currently Director General of Fundación Pensar. Recognized for her career in the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico, of which she emerged and subsequently separated, she is furthermore recognized in Mexican high society by Revista Quien and Grupo Expansion. In public administration, she has served as advisor to the President of the National Institute of Ecology from 1993 to 1998, during the efforts of Ingeniero Gabriel Quadri. From 1998 to 2003, she was President of the Mexican Citizen Presence, A.C., and also was President of the Union of Environmentalists I.A.P. from 1998 to 2003 - a coalition that covered over one hundred environmental organizations in Mexico. She was Independent Deputy from 2003 to 2006 in the Third Legislature of the Legislative Assembly of the Federal District, a position which came postulated by the late Mexico Possible Party. Martha Delgado has participated in several public forums, such as the United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, China, 1995; Fourth World Conference on Biodiversity, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1996; International Meeting "Building Global Democracy" in New Delhi, India, 1999; Fifth World Conference on Global Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, 1999. She has participated in various international fora such as the Meeting of C40 in Seoul Korea, 2008, Meeting presentation of the main Green Plans World (San Francisco), 2007, the V World Water Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, 2008. The COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark and COP16 in Cancun, Mexico. Meeting of ICLEI in Edmonton, Canada. The [V World Urban Forum], Rio de Janeiro 2010".