NRDC Report: Diesel Emissions Threaten the Health of Millions in Latin America and Contribute to Climate Change

Cleaner fuels, new standards and technology to clean up black carbon diesel truck exhaust could help save lives and help millions breathe easier.

LIMA, PERU (December 5, 2014) – Latin American countries could save tens of thousands of lives and help millions of people suffer fewer respiratory illnesses by tackling the world’s second most dangerous climate pollutant – known as black carbon – a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council shows.

Countries across Latin America can significantly cut black carbon emissions by pursuing cleaner fuels, setting new lower vehicle emissions standards and providing financial incentives to retire the oldest, dirtiest vehicles. The chief source of these black carbon emissions is diesel fueled vehicles, whose numbers are rising on Latin American roadways.

“Black carbon emissions threaten the health of millions in Latin America and contribute to climate disruption already seen in declining Andean glaciers and a drier Amazon Basin,” said Jake Schmidt, NRDC’s international program director. “The good news is some Latin American countries are already taking steps to curb this dangerous climate pollutant. We hope many countries will follow and add additional practical and proven measures to dramatically reduce black carbon. They can improve both public health and the climate that Latin Americans depend on for their livelihood.”

Unlike the world’s leading climate pollutant, carbon dioxide, which persists in the atmosphere for decades or longer, black carbon lingers only for days. So efforts to curb black carbon emissions would have an impact almost immediately on clean air and health, according to “Dumping Dirty Diesels in Latin America: Reducing Black Carbon and Air Pollution from Diesel Engines in Latin American Countries,” a report co-authored by NRDC and Gladstein, Neandross and Associations (GNA).

NRDC released its report at a press conference today in the international climate meeting in Lima, Peru. Country representatives there are beginning another key round of climate negotiations leading up to a high-level meeting a year from now in Paris, where countries hope to hammer out a new international climate agreement.

Reducing black carbon would help curb climate change and protect public health. Health experts have found ties between exposure to black carbon and decreased vascular function and respiratory problems, including aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and lung inflammation. The World Health Organization has determined that outdoor air pollution, diesel exhaust, and particulate matter cause cancer.

NRDC’s report includes research on black carbon issues in about 15 Latin American countries. It finds that half of black carbon emissions in four countries – Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela – come from diesel vehicles, and that such vehicles account for roughly 37 percent of black carbon emissions in most other Central and South American countries.

NRDC recommends in the report that Latin American countries individually and collectively:

  • Establish better air quality monitoring throughout the region to determine the prevalence of black carbon emissions. Only 8 of 15 countries surveyed monitor for fine particulate matter, which would include black carbon.
  • Adopt low-sulfur fuel standards for vehicles. Only Chile has adopted and implanted the needed standards; Mexico has adopted, but not implemented, them.
  • Require stringent vehicle emissions standards, which would encourage the installation of emission control equipment on diesel engines, or promote alternative-fueled vehicles such as electric hybrids.
  • Provide incentives to replace the oldest, most polluting trucks with cleaner, more fuel-efficient models. Colombia and Chile do this now. Further, 45 Latin American cities have implemented new bus routes that use clean buses and are replacing high-emitting buses.
  • Establish other sustainable urban planning solutions, such as low-emissions zones that restrict vehicle access to urban areas based on their emissions.

Together, these solutions could deliver swift benefits to public health and the climate, the report says. In other countries, regulatory solutions have proven to reduce black carbon emissions by more than 95 percent.

“Countries around the world can chart many paths to reduce the threat that climate change poses to our health and to future generations,” said Amanda Maxwell, NRDC’s Latin America Project director. “Reducing black carbon emissions from cars and trucks is a simple, proven path that Latin America can take advantage of – to the benefit of millions of people.”

For NRDC’s issue brief and report, click here:

For the full NRDC report, “Dumping Dirty Diesels in Latin America: Reducing Black Carbon and Air Pollution from Diesel Engines in Latin American Countries,” click here:

For a blog by Amanda Maxwell on the issue, click here:

NRDC’s press conference will be archived under Press Room 2 here:


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