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MEXICO: Efficient Transport Needed for a Cleaner Environment

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Oct 7 2011 (IPS) - Policies for higher fuel efficiency in vehicles could contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of transportation, which is responsible for 23 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to experts at a meeting in the Mexican capital.

Mexico emits some 709 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year, of which 60 percent is derived from energy production and consumption. Transport contributes 134 million tonnes a year of CO2, one of the main greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.

“A mechanism could be created for industry so that producers who reduce emissions below their target can transfer the difference to those who do not meet their goal,” Jorge Macías of the Centre for Sustainable Transport Mexico (CTS-Mexico) told IPS.

The NGO received a grant of 100,000 euros (133,000 dollars) from the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) to fund its 2009-2010 project titled “An emissions cap and trade scheme for the Mexican automobile industry.”

The programme consisted of a feasibility study and design of an emissions trading mechanism (ETM) for CO2.

The report concluded that an ETM, such as those already implemented in the United States, the European Union, China and Japan, would indeed be viable and would have social, economic and environmental benefits for both industry and consumers. In the first year of operation it would be expected to save two million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

The National Institute of Ecology estimated that automobile manufacturing generated approximately 140,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2007.

The Mexican auto fleet is made up of 23 million vehicles, with an average age of at least 15 years. The average fuel consumption is 12.2 km per litre, but this could reach 18 km per litre in 2017 through efficiency measures. In the United States the average figure for fuel economy is 16.3 km per litre.

“The costs associated with transport projects have to be paid for, including environmental degradation. We have the opportunity to design an international policy that would include transport in the climate change equation,” Ramón Cruz, an expert at the U.S. Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), told IPS.

In partnership with four other agencies, ITDP is promoting an initiative called “Bridging the Gap: Pathways for transport in the post 2012 process”, which aims to integrate the transport sector into climate change policy, as well as develop strategies to include incentives for sustainable land transport in climate negotiations.

Connections between transport and policies for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) on climate change were one of the central topics at the 7th International Congress on Sustainable Transport, held Oct. 3-5 in Mexico City.

NAMA measures were highlighted at the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 16), held last December in Cancún, a southeastern Mexican resort city. The COP 16 final document encouraged countries to register their mitigation and adaptation actions with the Convention, in order to receive financial and technical support.

Mexico presented its 2009-2012 Special Climate Change Programme as a NAMA. It includes measures like replacing old cars, extending public transport systems, introducing electric or hybrid vehicles, and optimising road travel in medium-sized cities.

Out of 43 NAMA proposals presented to the Convention, 28 include transport projects.

Mexico produced 820,000 vehicles in 2010, and may make 880,000 this year, according to the Mexican Automobile Industry Association (AMIA).

The car manufacturers argue that efficiency regulations should include economic incentives, the use of cleaner fuels, adoption of improved technology and an effective ban on illegal imports of used cars.

“We are in favour of fuel efficiency and new technologies in vehicles. But public policies are needed to promote and facilitate the use of these technologies, as occurs in other countries. Efficiency regulations must take income levels and market elasticity into account,” Eduardo Solís, executive president of AMIA, told IPS.

Since 2005, when the border with the United States was partially opened for purchases of vehicles between 10 to 15 years old, more than four million of them have entered Mexico, mainly all-terrain vehicles.

Due to the global economic crisis that broke out in 2008, the Mexican government subsidised the automobile industry with over two billion dollars to avoid job losses and maintain production levels. It is also spending a further two billion dollars a year on gasoline subsidies.

Lucas Davis and Matthew Kahn, academics at the University of California, Berkeley and the University of California, Los Angeles, respectively, showed that the used cars imported into Mexico produce more emissions on average than the U.S. vehicle fleet but fewer emissions than the Mexican fleet, and have not affected sales of new cars in Mexico.

Their 2010 study “International Trade in Used Vehicles: The Environmental Consequences of NAFTA” (the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico, in force since 1994) found that “when a vehicle is traded (to Mexico), average vehicle emissions per mile tend to decrease in both countries.”

Davis and Kahn say their study “provides evidence for the pollution havens hypothesis, the idea that trade liberalisation causes pollution to move to countries with lax environmental standards,” a risk also pointed out by Macías, of CTS-Mexico.

“We propose a law to protect Mexico from becoming a haven for inefficient cars, which is already occurring,” Macías said.

Increasing the fuel efficiency of vehicles would cost the industry 700 dollars per unit, but car owners would save three times that amount in fuel costs, according to the CTS-Mexico study. Furthermore, the proposed cap and trade scheme would pay 80 dollars per tonne of CO2 emissions avoided.

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