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Latin America and the Caribbean hop into electric mobility

MD Staff

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Photo by Empresas Públicas de Medellín

Air pollution kills nearly 7 million people every year around the world. The situation could worsen in the coming years in Latin America and the Caribbean, where transport – a rapidly growing sector – is the main source of greenhouse emissions.

The region’s vehicle fleet is expanding faster than any other in ​​the world and could triple over the next 25 years. This would result in a collapse of the cities’ road infrastructures and in a proportional increase of pollutants.

To avoid this dramatic scenario, several countries in the region are implementing innovative laws and projects to promote electric mobility and introducing clean vehicles into their public transport.

If the current fleet of buses and taxis of 22 Latin American cities were replaced with electric vehicles right now, the region could save almost US$64 billion in fuel by 2030, avoid the emission of 300 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and save 36,500 people from premature death, revealed a UN Environment and International Automobile Federation (FIA Region IV) study, supported by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID) and the European Union.

UN Environment, through its MOVE platform and with the support of Euroclima+ project, is assisting Argentina, Colombia and Panama with their national electric mobility strategies, and is also helping Chile and Costa Rica in their plans to expand the use of electric buses.

Costa Rica is one of the regional leaders of the transition. The Central American country wants to be the first “decarbonized” nation in the world, as its President, Carlos Alvarado, announced last May during his inauguration.

The country already has an energy matrix that is almost a 100 per cent clean, which helped to reach an important record in 2017: more than 330 continued days consuming electricity only from renewable sources. But transport still depends on fossil fuels and is responsible of 68 per cent of energy sector emissions. The public sector is therefore paying greater attention to electric mobility.

Earlier this year, Costa Rica adopted a groundbreaking law in the region to encourage electric vehicles. The law creates economic incentives to the public and private sectors and introduces benefits, like better access to loans. Additionally, three electric buses will travel across the country as part of a pilot plan.

In the southern part of the continent, Chile is working to have the second largest electric buses fleet in the world, right after China, which currently has 150,000 units. The Chilean government approved a plan last year to gradually introduce 200 electric buses into the transport system of Santiago, Transantiago, and is aiming to exceed 2,000 buses by 2025.

Gianni López, a civil mechanic engineer at the Mario Molina Development and Research Center, says, at this stage, electromobility in Latin America and the Caribbean is mostly competitive in cargo and public transport vehicles.

“In the short term, the region will not have a transition like Norway’s, the world leader. The difference in prices between conventional and electric cars in our countries are still huge and can only be amortized through intensive uses,” such as buses, taxis, company fleets or cargo transport, explains López.

Gonzalo Pacheco, General Manager of the Chilean company Movener, says Chile and the rest of the region need to improve after-sales and maintenance processes, as there are only a few experts in the region and the local universities still do not offer this kind of training.

However, the charging infrastructure is seen as the great challenge of Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Although electric cars can be charged at home, users suffer from the so-called ‘anxiety range’. They are afraid the car will run out of energy before reaching the destination,” says Gastón Turturro, Engineering Professor at the University of Buenos Aires.

Gustavo Mañez, UN Environment Climate Change Coordinator in Latin America and the Caribbean, believes this is far from the truth. “Everyone in the region has electricity outlets at home or at work, and considering that vehicles are parked more than 90 per cent of the time during the day, they could be charged virtually anywhere at a cost almost 10 times lower than that of fossil fuels,” he explains.

Uruguay has recently taken important steps in this field: the country has built electric charging stations in 300 km of its main touristic roads, now the first ‘electrified’ route in the region. The South American country intends to cover 20 per cent of the 9,000 km of its national roadways by 2020. In addition, it has exempted commercial electric vehicles from import taxes.

Argentina has also shown determination. The Government has recently approved a decree that reduces duties on the import of electric cars from 35 to 2 per cent and has presented a law in the National Congress to encourage electric mobility, “very similar to that of Costa Rica and which will mark a precedent in the region,” says Turturro.

The country will also release a dozen of electric buses in Buenos Aires by the end of the year: “If we electrify the capital bus fleet, we could even have a 25 per cent reduction in emissions,” adds the expert.

In Colombia, Medellín prepares the deployment of 1,500 electric taxis by 2020, 500 of which will operate this year. While in Mexico – one of the world’s largest automotive producers –, two large companies, Zacua and Giant Motors, lead projects to manufacture 100 per cent national electric cars.

“Latin America has the greenest electricity matrix in the world, the fastest growing emissions of the transport sector and the highest use per capita of public transport globally. The region is uniquely positioned to take advantage of electric mobility”, adds Mañez.

The transition to electric mobility will help Latin American countries reduce emissions and fulfill their commitments under the Paris Agreement. The pact, signed in 2015 by nearly 200 countries, aims to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

UN Environment Office in Latin America and the Caribbean launched the MOVE platform in 2016 to accelerate the transition to electric mobility in the region. Since its creation, MOVE has positioned itself as a flagship community of practice in the provision of technical assistance, resource mobilization, capacity building and knowledge creation on electric mobility in the region.

UN Environment

Urban Development

Mali: Bamako Needs Urgent Actions to Become an Engine of Growth and Service Delivery

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Bamako, Mali’s capital city, has an opportunity to promote growth and improve service delivery, however this window of opportunity is narrow, a new World Bank Group report finds.

Launched today, Bamako – An Engine of Growth and Service Delivery analyzes how Bamako can become a city that works, increasing productivity and livability for its residents. According to the report, Bamako dominates Mali’s urban landscape, so reforms and investments in the capital would impact the entire country’s development.

The report highlights that to unleash Bamako’s potential, a balanced approach to reforming institutions, putting the right policies in place and investing in infrastructures and attention to implementation will be needed. This would require coordinated use of land and connective infrastructure, fiscal and technical capabilities to finance and manage better public service delivery, and strengthening of urban institutions.

“Many of Mali’s development challenges have a spatial dimension – with Bamako at its core. The economic and social importance of the capital city cannot be understated. Decisions made in Bamako will have long-lasting effects on Mali’s development as it is the nerve center of the national economy. Reforms and investments aimed at tackling urban development challenges in the capital will have knock-on effects on national economic development,” said Soukeyna Kane, World Bank Country Director for Mali.

The report looks at factors underlying Bamako’s current challenges. It finds that inefficiencies in the land market deter productive investments. This, combined with low quality of transport, hampers urban accessibility within the city – keeping people away from jobs and services. And these challenges are further exacerbated by institutional fragmentation and lack of adequate investments.

“Bamako has an opportunity to make early investments in urban infrastructure in close coordination with long-term planning. Moreover, digital and disruptive technologies offer an opportunity for Bamako to tackle major challenges like never before. ” said Anna Wellenstein, Director, Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice, World Bank.

Despite Bamako’s prominence, its progress on increasing its competitiveness over time and on urban service delivery for its citizens has been falling behind. The report finds that urban development in Bamako has been fragmented – providing an important explanation of the failure to realize the advantages associated with the city’s growth.

“The high level of urban fragmentation is fettering both – productivity, by preventing opportunities for matching people and jobs – and livability, by driving up the costs of urban infrastructure and service delivery,” said Megha Mukim, Senior Economist and Lead Author of the report.

To become an engine of growth and service delivery, Bamako needs to scale up investments in a bottom-up, innovative ecosystem by developing the right platforms and engaging citizens in finding solutions to transform the city space.

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Urban Development

RASAI: The car-sharing tool seeking to breathe life into Pakistan’s congested cities

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When Hassam Ud-din started studying in Islamabad in Pakistan, he had a three-hour round-trip commute from his home in Rawalpindi. He hated sitting in traffic jams, breathing dirty air and burning up fuel and money. Eventually he moved closer to Islamabad but, not content with solving the problem for himself, he’s now come up with a fix to help others.

Ud-din has created an Internet tool that matches drivers with passengers looking for an affordable way to get to work or elsewhere. Called RASAI, the Urdu word for accessibility, the website and app aim to fill spare seats and empty trunks and create a more efficient travel system that offers low-income travellers more opportunities while also tackling pollution.

“I realized that people are limited in the opportunities they have by the radius of where they can go easily and cost-effectively,” said Ud-din, who has a passion for maps and route planning and studied transportation engineering.

In Pakistan, it is quite common to see people seeking lifts on the side of the main roads. After conducting a survey that found that more than 60 per cent of vehicles were using only half their capacity, Ud-din realized it would be possible to harness this tradition.

“It was already happening in an informal way so what we did was we gave people an option to digitize their daily route. People can go to our website or app and register their route with us and the timings and we can find them passengers to take on their way,” the 26-year-old said, noting that most people tend to use the website to set up monthly rides.

Only 17 per cent of Pakistan’s population of around 200 million own cars but the country’s cities are still blighted by congestion and foul-smelling fumes. The Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air report last year found that Pakistan, Bangladesh and India had experienced the steepest increases in air pollution levels since 2010.

Authorities are starting to act: for example, in 2020 Karachi will launch a zero-emission Green Bus Rapid Transit network, with 200 buses fuelled by bio-methane, or cow poo. However, the need for affordable transport is still great.

For Ud-din, the answer lies in the vehicles that are already on the roads.

“Our main aim was to create a virtual transit network … where you don’t have an infrastructure but the capacity on the roads is optimized for you and you are able to use it quite efficiently,” he says.

Around 1,400 vehicles are registered on RASAI’s website, with most customers setting up lifts on a month-by-month basis. Passengers who find a lift using RASAI usually pay a nominal amount to help cover fuel costs, but the trips are still more affordable than other methods.

Ud-din had to overcome people’s resistance to sharing their cars. Some were concerned about possible security issues or cultural differences. But Ud-din found a way to circumvent that hesitation by linking his service to the existing concept of pick-drop taxis.

“We need to be disruptive in the tech and the value proposition but it’s good to be conservative when you pitch it to the customer and try to relate it to something that is already there,” he said.

While one of Ud-din’s main priorities was to provide affordable transport for people on lower incomes, he also wanted to address traffic pollution.

“(RASAI) helps solve the pollution problem directly and indirectly: if four people go in one car instead of taking their own cars, that reduces emissions. Indirectly, if those cars are not on the road, that reduces both congestion and pollution.”

Ud-din’s innovation won a grant from UN Environment as part of the Asia-Pacific Low-Carbon Lifestyles Challenge, which supports young people with cutting-edge ideas to foster energy-efficient, low-waste and low-carbon lifestyles.

Ud-din says the grant boosted his team’s morale, while the mentoring he received as part of the award allowed him to think more clearly about turning his idea into a viable business model.

“The financial support was crucial to hone the product and cover the expenses required. These kinds of startups require a lot of capital to start because they require a critical mass,” he said.

Commenting on the winners of the challenge, UN Environment’s Acting Executive
Director Joyce Msuya said the innovations were just the latest examples of a long history of ingenuity in the region.

“The four billion inhabitants of Asia and the Pacific have seen both sides of the development ledger more vividly than most. Standards of living have skyrocketed as traditional consumption and production models have gone into overdrive,” she wrote in a recent opinion piece.

“Yet, environmental debt accrued by these global habits is increasingly obvious: climate change, pollution, habitat loss and ecosystem destruction. If we continue to make the same choices, our future looks bleak.”

The innovative spirit shown by inventors like Ud-din will take centre-stage at the fourth UN Environment Assembly in March, where the motto will be to think beyond prevailing patterns and live within sustainable limits.

For Ud-din, who spent a year in Silicon Valley as part of the Global Cleantech Innovation programme, technology will play a critical role in finding new solutions to environmental challenges, just as it has enabled on-demand services to facilitate our increasingly digital lives.

“Tech allows us to leverage resources that we might not even have known we have. Take Airbnb: people had spare rooms and the tech allowed them to make them available on a platform, and now it’s a valuable company,” Ud-din said. “In the same way, we are saying that if you are driving somewhere and you have spare capacity, that’s an asset you can leverage.”

UN Environment

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Interview with Renzo Piano

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Renzo Piano © Stefano Goldberg / PUBLIFOTO Genova

Renzo Piano, winner of the 1998 Pritzker Prize and the 2002 UIA Gold Medal (among others), is one of the most prolific architects of our time, with an architectural repertoire that numbers over 50 landmark buildings spread right across the world. Today, he is perhaps best known for his iconic designs of the Georges Pompidou Centre (Paris, France) and The Shard (London, United Kingdom).

Born in 1937 to a family of builders in Genoa, Italy, Piano went on to found the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in 1980, which now has offices in Paris, Genoa and Berlin. He also established the Renzo Piano Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of the architectural profession through educational programs and activities.

But Piano, it seems, is far from slowing down: he recently volunteered his services to his hometown of Genoa, where he is designing a replacement for the Morandi Bridge, which tragically collapsed in August 2018.

The UIA Secretariat caught up with Mr. Piano just before the New Year to talk about the 1970 UIA-endorsed competition that marked a milestone in his early career: The Georges Pompidou Centre.

What attracted you to the competition for the Georges Pompidou Centre?

There was an idea in the competition brief that Richard [Rogers] and I found particularly interesting: the creation of a “house of culture”. André Malraux, culture minister from 1959-1969, came up with the idea of establishing a “house of culture” in every French city; a place where the different disciplines could intertwine, from music to literature to art. We liked that idea.

The other thing about this competition was the chairman of the jury, Jean Prouvé: my idol! Prouvé served as a great example to me, not just because of his talent for designing buildings, but also because of the ethics of his architecture, manifest mostly in his work with Abbé Pierre. He was an icon!

How did you feel when you won the competition?

Imagine: you’re 34-years-old, you’ve done a bit of work, but mostly small contracts, and somebody gives you the opportunity to build the Georges Pompidou Centre: How do you feel? Very surprised! We never expected to win – I mean, there were 681 entries!

What impact did this competition have on your career?

It had a huge impact: it gave us self-confidence and the courage to fight for our ideas. When we won that competition, we were projected into a new dimension. Up until then, we were small fry! Then suddenly we found ourselves working with big construction companies, and those kinds of companies are always telling you “impossible, Mr. Piano, impossible”! But our experience with the Georges Pompidou Centre taught us how to defend our ideas and not to let them fade away under the pressure of opposition. Though, of course, you have to be careful; you have to be sure the idea you’re defending is a good one! Once you’re sure of that, you have to be prepared to put all your energy into upholding your idea, day after day.

What advice would you give an architect entering a design competition?

Firstly, I would encourage any young architect to enter competitions. I myself got about 80% of my work through competitions. Even the new Palais de Justice, in Paris, was a competition. Nobody asks you to design buildings like that without a competition process first.

Secondly, forget tactics. One of the reasons why Richard and I won the competition for the Georges Pompidou Centre was because we never thought we could actually win, so we had zero strategy with regards to the jury. We were just focused on finding the right idea for that revolutionary period after May 68. Don’t waste your time trying to conform to what you think the jury is looking for, or you’ll never find true inspiration. Just concentrate on digging deep inside yourself, brainstorming with your colleagues, and looking for the right idea. Then, only then, you might win!

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