Advancing heavy machinery regulation to improve air quality and mitigate climate change

Mexico, Chile, Peru, Colombia
Green cities
Heavy machinery used in the construction industry and in agriculture emits pollutants that harm the health of people and the environment. Swisscontact is contributing to the development of regulatory frameworks that improve air quality in Latin American cities and mitigate climate change.

When we talk about pollution in our cities, the first thing that comes to mind is urban transport or inadequate management of solid waste. However, beyond the measures to control emissions in urban transport, other sources begin to take on greater notoriety. This is the case of Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM), also known as heavy machinery. The engines of these vehicles emit harmful pollutants, which affect air quality by contributing to air pollution. These particles can accumulate to high levels, affecting the health of both people and the environment.

Impact on health and climate change

The particulate matter emitted by construction machinery consists of fine airborne particles that are tiny enough to penetrate the lungs, making them a dangerous pollutant. One of the components of particulate matter is black carbon, which reinforces climate change because it is an ultrafine particle matter generated by inefficient combustion. In addition to polluting the air, black carbon has significant direct and indirect effects on climate change, as it absorbs sunlight and can thus speed up the melting of glaciers.

Construction machinery that runs on fossil fuel (diesel) has raised concerns about its contribution to environmental pollution. Although the total number of these machines may be small compared to urban buses, they are scattered throughout the city and operate for long hours in the same place every day, resulting in significant local concentrations of pollutants.

Yellow machinery at work for the upgrading of roads and sidewalks, Mexico City

Since its inception in 2016, the Climate and Clean Air in Latin American Cities (CALAC+) Programme has worked in Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru to make the impact of this type of machinery visible, both in terms of air quality and its relation to climate change. Besides raising awareness, the programme has been promoting international exchange of experiences and learnings, sharing best practices in the measurement of particulate matter.

Regulatory developments contribute to the climate targets

Regulating Non-Road Mobile Machinery (NRMM) is an important step to achieving the climate goals in growing cities, along with actions to protect the health of the population for a more sustainable future. 

Manufacturers of commercial motor vehicles such as buses and trucks are required to meet strict emission standards in Europe (Euro 5 or 6 regulations). In comparison with commercial vehicles, NRMM diesel engines comply with lower standards, emitting up to 10 times more ultrafine particles and gases. 

To address this situation, it is crucial to implement effective measures that contribute to low or zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emission zones in our cities, resulting in greener cities. These include, for example, installing efficient particulate filters in machinery to reduce emissions by up to 95%.

Other measures promote the use of electric machinery, where the energy comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power, or, in the future, incorporating machinery that operates with green hydrogen — a cleaner energy that is produced with renewable electricity.

More public policies for better air quality 

Latin America currently faces the challenge of developing policies and regulations to reduce NRMM emissions. Countries such as Chile and Colombia have drafted some regulations and Mexico and Peru already have some management instruments in place. However, in all cases, more measures must be implemented to address this problem to protect health and comprehensively achieve climate mitigation. 

Heavy machinery for road repair, Santiago de Chile 

The CALAC+ Programme has been working with national and local governments on the development of regulations and standards to control machinery emissions, adapting them to the needs and characteristics of each Latin American country. Switzerland is a pioneer in addressing this issue, thus the transfer of knowledge and experience has been and continues to be relevant. 

Machines at work for the construction of housing, Bogotá, Colombia

In this context, a study developed by the CALAC+ Programme gathers the experience of the European Union and 14 other countries in the control of NRMM emissions, mainly from nanoparticles generated in engine combustion. Through the identification of regulatory criteria and the analysis of instruments used worldwide, the programme seeks to lay the foundations for the definition of effective regulatory frameworks that are adapted to the context of each country and that reduce the emission of local pollutants. The study has been adapted to a free consultation tool that can be accessed here (in Spanish).


The CALAC+ Programme is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru
Green cities
Climate and Clean Air project in Latin American Cities Plus (CALAC+)
The Paris Climate Agreement adopted in December 2015 provides a clear signal from countries towards reducing emissions and build resilience to climate change impacts within the transport sector.Thanks to its management and technical expertise, Switzerland contributes significantly to the transformation of cleaner transport in Latin American cities,...