Latin America Participates in World Car-Free Day

Figure 1: Share of emissions from transportation and fossil fuels
Credit: Source: Inter-American Development Bank, Energia Para el Futuro

On Saturday, September 22, cities around the globe participated in World Car-Free Day. The idea of a car-free day arose in 1994, in Toledo, Spain, during the International Conference of Accessible Cities and has as its objective the promotion of the use of public transportation and sustainable mobility, such as cycling or walking. The Day also seeks to raise awareness of the negative effects of the excessive use of vehicles.

A car-free day permits everyone to realize how much pollution affects them. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, vehicle emissions are one of the “main sources of outdoor air pollution, particularly in cities.” In Latin America, 80% of the population lives in cities. The region’s fossil fuel consumption is driven primarily by the transportation sector, the source of over a third of its CO2 emissions. The following graph shows the size of the vehicle fleet (bubble) and the percentage of CO2 emissions for countries in the region. According to the graph, emissions vary by country with Paraguay, Costa Rica and Brazil—three clean electricity countries—having the highest percentages of emissions in the region. The potential for CO2 reduction in the energy sector is strongly associated with the electrification of transport.

Latin America has recently been taking measures to promote sustainable mobility and to invest in clean energy. Below are a few examples of this week-ends activities of some Latin American cities to celebrate World Car-Free Day.

In Mexico City, the government banned cars in the historic center of the city. Cyclists and pedestrians took advantage to request that this measure be made permanent. The City Council provided an information table that outlined the advantages of public transportation and the Ministry of Environment handed out free reflective plates to all cyclists. Mexico City has recently introduced sustainable alternatives, including Econduce’s electric scooters, which have a unique technology that applies to Mexico and Latin America and their use has avoided generating almost 425 tons of CO2 emissions. Currently, there are more than 500 electric scooters available in Mexico City.

For its part, Colombia is making a transition from diesel to electric vehicles. In Cali, vehicles are responsible for more than 80 percent of particulate matter. This weekend, Cali celebrated what it calls “Day of the Bike and Clean Air,” the purpose of which is to replace private vehicles, such as cars and motorcycles, with non-polluting means of transportation, such as bicycles or the MIO, the bus rapid transit system. The Mayor of Cali stated that he wanted the population to learn more about how to use public transportation and bicycles. He added that it is up to each Caleño to understand the impact that cars have on the environment and to change their habits accordingly.

In Trujillo, Peru, hundreds took advantage to tour the streets of the Historic Center on foot or by bicycle. The municipality of Trujillo organized a series of outdoor activities, such as workshops and tours, to inform citizens of the use of alternative means of transport that do not cause damage to the environment.

In Asuncion, Paraguay, hundreds of cyclists joined to bike 17.5 kilometers (approx. 10.5 miles) around the city. In addition to raising awareness of the benefits of public transportation, the Paraguayan government took the opportunity to focus on the health consequences as well. The Ministry of Public Health reported that 75 percent of the population is sedentary during its free time, 80 percent is sedentary because those persons travel only by car and 45 percent reported that they are sedentary because they remain seated during long periods of time at work. The Ministry alerted that these conditions can lead to chronic diseases as well as muscle pain and stress.

Events such as World Car-Free Day are important to raise awareness and to make the individual more conscious about the harmful effects of car pollution. If each individual were conscious about the relationship between mobility and the environment and if governments promoted initiatives and invested in clean energy, it would make it more possible for Latin American countries to meet their Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement.