By Judith Domínguez Serrano
With restrictive measures and some emerging ones, an attempt is made to control the serious problem of air pollution produced by the hundreds of thousands of motor vehicles that circulate in the megalopolis of 24 million inhabitants. The distance they travel is equivalent to 6,000 times around the world daily, as reported by the Mexico City Environment Secretariat.
Every year, the first days of March, the ozone season begins, with the entry of an enviable spring in Mexico City due to the comfortable temperature that oscillates in the 19 ° with warm days and cool nights. This landscape, however, only a few days can be enjoyed in what was “the most transparent region” of Carlos Fuentes.
On a daily basis, a heavy cloud of pollutants floats over the region. But they had managed to reverse the serious problems of the Valley of Mexico that more than twenty years ago gave it the unenviable label of the most polluted city in the world. The environmental policy was a success that cost large amounts of money and actions in the medium term.
However, the current mobility policy of Mexico City seems to have failed when the environmental contingency in its Phase 1 was activated this week, due to poor air quality, which led to the reinforcement of the “Hoy no circula” program.
This situation is not fortuitous. In previous years the pre-contingency had been activated, which has affected daily life as classes or outdoor activities are suspended, among other things. But wrong measures to facilitate mobility have caused this emergency situation and environmental risk for its inhabitants. The recent traffic regulations of Mexico City imposed an excessive load on the maximum speed limits in the city to a society that is not only dissatisfied, but that contrary to what was expected, in two months the emissions shot in a favorable climate for ozone concentration.
Ozone is a pollutant that is formed in the atmosphere during the hours of sunshine from the pollutants that we emit, mainly from cars and industrial smokestacks. 87% correspond to nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and 32% to volatile organic compounds (HC), ozone precursors. In high concentrations, it causes irritation to the eyes and respiratory tract, and the direct relationship with frequent exposure to it and the increase in the causes of morbidity and mortality has been proven.
Another questionable measure was to allow, since last year, the circulation of all vehicles that passed the vehicle verification, regardless of their age, which increased the number by one million four hundred thousand, but only the emission limits. The illegality and corruption in the verification centers aggravated the situation, making it easier for that part of society accustomed to living in illegality.
The result is an environmental policy that fails, at least in terms of air quality, due to its contradictions. The mobility policy should be, at least in this region, of accessibility. But public transport is very poor, and if there is someone who daily violates the regulations, it is the various concessionaires of it. It is therefore not an option.
Paradoxically, in 2013, just when the aforementioned measures began to be implemented, Mexico City won the C40 International Environmental Award for Leading Cities in Climate in its category "Air Quality" after competing with 120 cities, and in which Six indicators were taken into account: the level of environmental success in the city, innovation, GHG mitigation, leadership and effective commitment, replicability and scalability; the structural causes that are being questioned today.
What we are experiencing this week reveals the contradictions of an environmental policy that in a few years can lead to the failure of not taking into account that it is not a problem of the city, but of the region, of the megalopolis, which covers seven states; and the challenge is to put them in agreement.
We should rethink a different environmental policy if we want this region to be habitable in the future.
(*) Judith Domínguez
The College of Mexico