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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

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Urban Development

How South-South and Triangular cooperation can promote green growth and sustainable cities

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As part of the Global South-South Development Expo 2018, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) convened a thematic solution forum on sustainable urban-industrial development along the Belt and Road.

The forum, building on the outcomes of UNIDO’s flagship BRIDGE for Cities event, focused on how green growth and sustainable cities can be promoted through South-South and Triangular cooperation. It was attended by a high-level audience consisting of representatives from Member States, UN agencies, development finance institutions and the private sector, as well as from civil society and academia.

The moderator of the forum, GONG Weixi, who is Senior Coordinator for South-South and Triangular Industrial Cooperation at UNIDO, introduced the theme by referring to the fact that more than 50 per cent of the world’s population currently lives in cities. He suggested that dealing with urban issues will have a direct impact on poverty reduction and on ensuring quality of life around the world.

The panellists, who included Carlo Fortuna from the Central European Initiative; Sabine Ohler, Director of International Business at the Vienna Business Agency;  Rohey Malick Lowe, Major of Banjul, Gambia; and Mohammad Mustafizur Rahman from Bangladesh’s  Ministry of Information Communications Technologies Division; remarked that while the GSSD Expo makes an extremely valuable contribution to linkage and learning, it is up to developing countries themselves to leverage the success stories and lessons learnt, and that they should take ownership of their development strategies.

There was also agreement that while foreign investments and technology transfer are essential in the development process, South-South cooperation is a process that cannot be forced. It should deliver mutual benefits for all parties, while respecting their national sovereignty.

Gong said, “As the key take-away for this session, the ‘catch-up’ strategy for developing countries to develop through their own efforts is ‘3L’ – linkage, learning, and leverage. The forum today provides us with a platform to link with and learn from all development stakeholders. Ultimately, it is the engagement and ownership of developing countries themselves that can ensure development results.”

The Global South-South Development Expo is the only Expo offered by the United Nations system solely for the Global South. It provides a platform for all development actors and stakeholders to showcase Southern development solutions, celebrate South-South and triangular cooperation successes, share knowledge and lessons learned, explore new avenues for collaboration, and initiate new partnership efforts.

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Urban Development

ADB Report Shares Best Practices in Chinese Cities to Combat Climate Change

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Cities in developing Asia and the Pacific are growing fast, but this surge in urbanization has led to increasing pollution and environmental concerns, threatening to impact the quality of people’s lives. Innovative climate solutions in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, are demonstrating that it is possible for cities to pursue growth in a low-carbon and climate-resilient manner, according to a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) report.

The report, 50 Climate Solutions from Cities in the People’s Republic of China: Best Practices from Cities Taking Action on Climate Change, highlights case studies where cities in the PRC have embraced means of ensuring more sustainable and climate-resilient growth. Some of these solutions include reducing energy consumption, improving waste management, promoting green spaces, as well as introducing clean-fuel vehicles and public transport.

“Climate change could severely impact developing Asia and the Pacific’s economic growth in the decades to come if no action is taken,” said ADB Deputy Director General for East Asia Ms. M. Teresa Kho at the launch of the report in Beijing. “Actions taken in many cities in the PRC show that it is certainly possible to start to turn the wheel around on climate change and its impacts. Other countries could well find useful lessons from the PRC’s experience.”

The city of Hohhot in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, for example, is taking advantage of the area’s abundant wind resources to use renewable energy sources for district heating. The project, supported by a $150 million ADB loan and a technical assistance grant, has helped the residents enjoy cleaner air, while reduce health hazards due to toxic air pollutants due to the city’s previous reliance on coal.

About 50 hectares of old landfills in the city of Wuhan in central PRC, meanwhile, have been transformed into gardens for residents to enjoy, lessening health risks and environmental hazards from the untreated sites.

Other climate action efforts mentioned in the report include a market-based emissions trading scheme in Shanghai, which has seen 100% compliance since its launch in 2013, and the rollout of electric taxis in the city of Taiyuan in Shanxi province, which will help reduce 222,000 tons of carbon emissions per year once the full fleet of traditional taxis is replaced.

The report, which includes details of projects supported by ADB and others, is part of ADB’s aim to support the PRC government’s efforts to address climate change and showcase its innovations in low-carbon city development. ADB is committing $80 billion from 2019 to 2030 to combat climate change in the Asia and Pacific region, while ensuring that at least 75% of its committed operations support climate change mitigation and adaptation.

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Urban Development

Turkey Sets Sights on Better Planned, Forward-Looking and Sustainable Cities

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Turkey takes a step forward today to make its cities more sustainable, inclusive and well-planned, with a focus on adopting integrated and long-term approaches to city planning and development.

High level officials from the World Bank, the European Union, the Ministry of Environment and Urbanization and Iller Bank with local representatives from metropolitan municipalities convened at the launch event of the Sustainable Cities Program in Turkey.

The Sustainable Cities Program at large aims to improve the economic, financial, environmental, and social sustainability of Turkish cities. The project will assist cities in laying the groundwork for sustainable infrastructure through comprehensive and integrated municipal plans, linking these to a robust Capital Investment Plan. It will also enable interested municipalities to access financing for their investments to deliver improved services to their citizens.

During the launch, Sameh Wahba, Director of Social, Rural, Urban and Resilience Global Practice at World Bank, highlighted that supporting Sustainable Cities was central to World Bank’s mission to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity and reemphasized the commitment to work with Turkey to assist in overcoming the challenges of building sustainable and resilient cities and promoting territorial development.

Johannes Zutt, World Bank Country Director for Turkey added: “The partnership and instrument that has been developed under the Sustainable Cities program provides a unique platform for integrated and multisectoral solutions to the various challenges faced by Turkey’s cities and to increasing the financial capacity of municipalities for improving lives of people of Turkey.”

Following the opening remarks, Murat Kurum, Minister of Environment and Urbanization and the World Bank team held a bilateral meeting, focusing on the fruitful cooperation between two institutions in the areas of municipal services, disaster risk management, and urban regeneration.

The Sustainable Cities Program involves a series of projects, the first one was approved in 2016 and the second in 2018 for a total value of around US $225 million. The aim is to support further projects in future allowing interested municipalities to access long-term financing for their investments.

The Sustainable City Planning and Management Systems component of the project, which is financed through European Union-Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance Grant amounting to 25 million Euro, supports reforms including policies and legislation that improve sustainable urban development planning and enhance urban sustainability. The component supports municipalities in planning and management and for the preparation of feasibility studies, detailed engineering designs, and environmental assessments for municipal subprojects.

Ten metropolitan municipalities and their water and sewerage utilities including Antalya, Balikesir, Denizli, Kahramanmaras, Kayseri, Malatya, Mardin, Mugla, Ordu, Van will benefit from this technical assistance component financed by the European Union.

The Municipal Investments part of the project will finance municipal infrastructure investments in public transport, water and sanitation, solid waste management, and energy. The cities that will benefit from this component so far include Denizli, Muğla, and Antalya where the investments to be financed include the design and construction of water, sewerage and storm water networks, collectors and Waste Water Treatment Plans.

The project supports the Turkey Country Partnership Framework of the World Bank Group for the 2018-2021 period, which includes the strategic objective of improving the sustainability and resilience of cities through investments and technical assistance interventions which coalesce around a public-private investment coordination platform in coordination with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) which is the Private Sector Arm of the World Bank Group.

The Project thus supports the World Bank’s objective under the maximizing finance for development (MFD) approach through this public-private investment coordination platform.

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