Latin America: challenges in urban transport due to nanoparticles

One of the main causes of air pollution is vehicle traffic. Vehicles emit ultra-small, highly toxic nanoparticles. Swisscontact has many years’ experience in transport and environmental projects. As part of the Climate and Clean Air in Latin American Cities (CALAC+) programme, Swisscontact is collaborating with local decision-makers in Latin America to reduce traffic pollution.

More than 150 million people in Latin American live in cities where air pollution levels exceed the limits set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Air pollution represents a threat to both health and the climate. It is estimated to have adverse effects on the gross domestic product of between 2 and 4 per cent in these countries. The emission of nanoparticles from traffic is causing the greatest concern. Nanoparticles are so small that they react with DNA and can increase the risk of cancer.

The CALAC+ programme supports initiatives to reduce these emissions in urban traffic, as vehicles are one of the main sources of air pollution. CALAC+ is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by Swisscontact.

Mass transit and emissions

Bogotá, Mexico City, Lima, and Santiago de Chile have focused their efforts to reduce ultrafine particles in two main areas: the quality of fuel and introducing standards for the emission of ultrafine particles. Regarding emissions standards, cities like Bogotá, Mexico City, and Santiago de Chile are demanding the same standards for new urban transportation buses like those in the EU. To support these efforts, CALAC+ is helping government officials and stakeholders to introduce clean technologies in urban transport to, thus, decrease the number of air-polluting vehicles. This will be achieved by implementing standard procedures to measure nanoparticles.

The programme is also supporting the creation of a regional and global network to exchange best practices through which the experience of experts from Switzerland and other countries will be shared.    

Machines used in construction and agriculture are major particle emitters

Construction and agricultural machinery contribute significantly to air pollution in countries where the CALAC+ programme is in use. Nevertheless, in most Latin American countries there are no emissions regulations for construction vehicles. For other emissions sources such as buses, trucks, and factories, progress has already been achieved to reduce pollutants. In light of this, emissions standards for vehicles not intended for common road traffic are becoming increasingly important.

A further solution is offered by technologies for reducing emissions. Santiago de Chile has benefited from Swiss experience with particle filters. Cities such as Bogotá and Lima are still working on assessing which and how many pollutants are emitted by construction machinery. This assessment will form the basis for initiatives to improve local air quality and mitigate the effects of climate change.

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