Smog Plagues Latin America: Who’s Got It The Worst?

Smog over Mexico City. Photo credit here.

Smog over Mexico City. Photo credit here.

From Mexico to Costa Rica, Peru to Ecuador and other popular cities in Latin America, pollutants (smog) in the air have reached hazardous levels, with ramifications for both the public health and the environment. The good news is that there are solutions that can help address the problem and best practices and international standards that can be adopted and adapted in Latin America. The region is already taking steps to address the smog including Eco-friendly, clean transportation and renewal energy technologies.


Interesting facts about Mexico regarding smog is that due to its location in what is referred to as a “highland bowl”, cold air drops down into Mexico City’s urban areas, trapping vehicle and industrial pollution, making it the most smog plagued metropolis of Latin America. Over the last few decades smog has turned a city that once ranked highly with other cities as having the cleanest air of the world to one with the worst pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, even tripling international standards. A far cry from Tenochtitlan,¬†right?

Fortunately Mexico has taken notice and at the Global Green Growth Summit in Korea, the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment & Natural Resources Juan José Guerra Abud outlined the steps Mexico was taking to establish its own green growth including the recent launch of National Strategy on Climate Change. He also pointed out that the steps had already made a significant difference.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the first Latin American country to make the shift to what is known as Diesel 50 which contains lower sulfur content than standard diesel fuel, and has the potential to cut automobile generated sulfur dioxide emissions by as much as 90%. According to the National Oil Refinery, Costa Rica’s sulfur dioxide emissions equaled 800 tons at one point but Diesel 50 is expected to cut the numbers to as low as 80 tons annually, hoping to reach 15 ppm by 2014.

When it comes to the environmental stewardship of Costa Rica, it’s important to note that the region also faced an over fishing problem that led to an 80% drop in shrimp populations over the past 20 years. Legislative initiatives have addressed the elimination of equipment imports that have been used for fishing practices that harm marine life. This from a place that boasts about 10% of the worlds butterfly population in a country with 4.1 million people. Butterflies and shrimp are just two of the many interesting facts about Costa Rica!

Lima, Peru

Interesting facts about Peru include that its economy is growing at a rate of 6% per year and it is expected to see an increase in energy demand of about 8% per year. A report released by the World Meteorological Organization stated that Lima’s air pollution is the highest in Latin America even though it as seen a decrease over the last few years. The smog problem is said to be caused by a combination of local factories and transportation as well as the surrounding hills that prevent the air from circulating.

Unfortunate as it is for the indigenous tribes of Peru, they may actually be breathing polluted air before even meeting anyone outside of their own small tribe or having any concept of the gasoline combustion engine.

According to a report released by the Clean Air Institute, more than 100 million Latin American citizens breathe polluted air. The region needs to get away from dirty diesel fuels and consider cleaner forms of transportation as well as sustainable energy generation.

Fortunately renewable energy is becoming a reality throughout the region with Mexico tending to get the most attention however other Latin American countries are making progress as well including Peru and Costa Rica. While global renewable energy investments dropped during 2012, Latin America’s total clean energy investments rose 127%; a positive sign.

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