Mexico's Air Quality is Front and Center as Host of International Climate and Clean Air Meetings

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) —a collaborative initative comprised of representatives from the governments of over 30 countries, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and non-governmental organizations— will meet in Mexico City this week to discuss and encourage efforts around the globe to address short-lived climate forcers. As the host country, Mexico has the opportunity to build upon its own recent progress in cleaning up harmful vehicle emissions by committing to the full package of standards to regulate the country’s dirty diesel fuels and vehicles, bringing public health and climate benefits to its citizens.

Although Mexico’s air quality has improved markedly over the past two decades, there is still room for improvement. A recent report from the Clean Air Institute found that emissions levels of particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and Ozone (O3) in Mexico far exceed World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended amounts. Emissions from transportation —especially from diesel engines— are a major source of these harmful substances. When these diesel fuels contain high amounts of sulfur, they also emit high levels of black carbon (also known as soot), which has been linked to deleterious effects on human health in urban areas and is the second most powerful contributor to climate change.

Fortunately, the solutions to this problem are known and proven: by removing the sulfur content of diesel fuels to ultra-low levels and then combining these cleaner fuels with standards for vehicle emissions, we can reduce 90-95 percent of the diesel soot and black carbon emissions. Many countries have implemented these regulations, such as Canada, Chile, Colombia, and the U.S., to name a few.

Mexico has already made encouraging strides in the right direction. The fact that the government is a member of the CCAC is alone a good sign. In 2006, Mexico passed a regulation requiring cleaner diesel fuels with lower sulfur content, but, importantly, it needs updating and actual implementation (a fuller account of that bill’s lack of teeth is here). The government underscored the need for these regulations in the new National Energy Strategy. It also recently passed a new standard, called NOM 163, to regulate fuel efficiency in cars and light-duty trucks through 2016.

So what more needs to be done? The government can complete what it has begun with NOM 163 by passing the full package of regulations, in particular it can:

  • Update and then implement fuel quality standards, making ultra-low sulfur diesel available nationwide;
  • Follow NOM 163 with a regulation for the fuel efficiency of light-duty vehicles from 2017-2025;
  • Pass emissions standards for heavy duty vehicles; and
  • Pass emissions standards for light duty vehicles.

More good news: progress on most of these initiatives is already underway. All that remains is the final push to ensure they are prioritized, passed and implemented.

With the CCAC in town this week, the Mexican government has a timely opportunity to demonstrate its leadership in the region and indeed the world by committing to passing these regulations. Mexico can ensure that its vehicles become more efficient at using fuels and less polluting by using low-sulfur fuels and better pollution filters. Doing so would protect Mexican citizens –especially the millions living in urban areas. It would also protect the planet by reducing the climate impacts of black carbon.