Chile owns the biggest fleet of electric buses in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The 200 e-buses hit the road earlier this year in the capital city, Santiago, as part of a plan to cut emissions and reduce air pollution. By 2040, Chile aims to convert its public transport system to an all-electric fleet.
“To decisively confront climate change, electromobility is critical. We are taking a leap towards a cleaner, more efficient and sustainable transport system,” says Carolina Schmidt, Minister of Environment of Chile and President of the UN Climate Change Conference COP25.
In December, the country will host the COP25 and lead one of the most challenging negotiations of our times: to try to get more ambitious commitments to reduce emissions from countries around the world, to keep global warming under the 1.5°C threshold.
Sustainable transport is critical for climate action, but also key to protect citizens’ health. Each electric bus can avoid up to 60 tonnes of carbon emissions every year.
In Chile, air pollution causes at least 4,000 premature deaths every year, while 10 million Chileans are exposed daily to levels of fine particulate matter above the World Health Organization standards, according to official figures.
A 2017 study by UN Environment estimates that the transition towards an all-electric taxi and bus fleet in Santiago would avoid 1,379 premature deaths by 2030.
At a country level, tackling air pollution would bring annual health benefits amounting to US$8 billion dollars, according to the Ministry of Environment of Chile.
Public electric mobility is booming in other parts of Latin America too. Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populated city, launched in March 2019 a fleet of 20 electric buses that will transport 10,500 users every day. In Colombia, the city of Cali will complete a 125-unit fleet this year, while Medellin already bought 64 e-buses.
Costa Rica pledges to have an all-electric fleet of buses and taxis by 2050, as part of a national decarbonization plan. Other countries are also putting in place incentives for customers, like Peru, where a tax on electric vehicles was lifted in 2018.
UN Environment, through its MOVE platform and with the support of the Euroclima+ project, is assisting Argentina, Colombia and Panama with their national electric mobility strategies.
Time to act
In the past, air pollution has paralyzed Santiago. In a 1999 crisis, an outbreak of influenza sent 3,500 children to the hospital every day. In 2015, 1,300 businesses were forced to close and 40 per cent of the 1.7 million cars of the city were taken out of the streets due to an environmental emergency.
Since then, the country has introduced new policies to beat air pollution, and designed 10 regional decontamination plans, with measures to improve heating and cooking systems and mass transit fleets. The transport sector accounts for 24.5 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions in Chile, and here is where electric mobility can play a significant role.
The transformation started in Santiago, one of the most polluted cities in Latin America. Every day, 18 million trips are made here, 30 per cent of them using public transport.
According to the Chinese company BYD, which produced the first 100 e-buses of Chile, one single electric bus prevents the equivalent to the emissions from 33 gasoline vehicles.
At the same time, this alternative comes with fewer costs. The Ministry of Transport of Chile estimates that operating and maintaining the new fleet is 70 per cent cheaper than diesel buses.
As part of its National Energy Roadmap, Chile also pledged to increase by 40 per cent the share of private electric vehicles.
Around 500 private electric vehicles are currently on the roads. Ninety-three were bought in the first four months of 2019 – almost four times more than in 2018. This is still a small step, but the market is expected to grow. A survey commissioned by car company Nissan estimates that 89 per cent of Chilean consumers are willing to buy an electric car.
The price of electric vehicles is considered one the main barriers in accessing sustainable options, but as the cost of the batteries keeps shrinking, so will the cost of vehicles around the world. According to Bloomberg NEF, in only three years the prices of electric and regular vehicles will start to match.
And when this happens, the air quality of our cities will improve, and millions of deaths around the world will be prevented.