The Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) of the news magazine The Economist and leading engineering company Siemens just released the Latin American Green City Index [PDF], an index measuring the sustainability of 17 key Latin American cities.
Believe it or not, Latin America is the most urbanized area of the world according to the United Nations. 81% of the population lives in urban areas. (Globally, a little more than 50% of the population lives in urban areas.) With 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions coming from cities, it is critical that we learn more about how to improve their environmental practices and effects of cities in order to minimize the effects of global warming, and this Index is a good step forward.
The Index delves into both best practices and critical problems that need to be addressed in these 17 cities. It covers a range of critical environmental issues.
Residents’ environmental perceptions, unsurprisingly, tend to focus on issues that are highly problematic and visible, such as traffic congestion, uncollected waste, or polluted air or rivers. The Index, on the other hand, measures environmental performance across eight categories — energy and CO2, land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality and environmental governance — and gives equal weighting to each. The Index also evaluates policies, which are a reflection of cities’ commitment to reducing their future environmental impact.
“The Latin American Green City Index will help the cities to learn more from each other, and forms an objective basis for an exchange of ideas on successful strategies,” says Peter Löscher, President and CEO of Siemens.
The 17 cities studied were reportedly picked based on available data, size, and economic and political importance.
Even though Curitiba was the birthplace of BRT and the home of Brazil’s first pedestrian-only street, the city achieved its ranking as the top city for air quality and waste. According to the report, “Since 2009, for example, the city’s environmental authority has been conducting an ongoing study on the CO2 absorption rate in Curitiba’s green spaces, as well as evaluating total CO2 emissions in the city.” The city has also been working to move people from informal settlements and slums to low-income housing where sanitation infrastructure like water and waste collection are easier to supply. Curitiba also achieves such distinction for its holistic approach to the environment. As early as the 1960s, “city officials implemented proposals to reduce urban sprawl, create pedestrian areas, and provide effective, low-cost rapid transit.”
Interestingly, counter to what similar studies in Asia and Europe have found, this study found no correlation between city income and environmental performance.
While some cities (i.e. Curitiba and Santiago) are sustainable transportation leaders, cars are clearly still major problem in the region:
Of transit more generally, the report highlights the fact that many Latin American cities have successfully set up extensive public transit systems, however, they have not necessarily gotten the people who can afford and choose to drive out of their cars, calling the region deeply entrenched in the culture of individual transportation. Plus, policies to encourage the use of public transit are rare, save for Santiago. Only two cities have park-and-ride schemes, none have carpool lanes. The number of vehicles per capita increases with per capita income, regardless of the extent and breadth of the public transit network.
As you can imagine, this report is expected to be widely viewed and quite important. The City Fix writes: “EIU is a prominent research and intelligence firm that delivers business and intelligence to more than 1.5 million decision-makers from global companies, financial institutions, governments and universities. This new report is likely to be highly influential. ”
The final rankings of the cities is as follows:
Well Above Average
- Curitiba, Brazil
- Belo Horizonte, Brazil
- Bogotá, Colombia
- Brasília, Brazil
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- São Paulo, Brazil
- Medellín, Colombia
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Monterrey, Mexico
- Porto Alegre, Brazil
- Puebla, Mexico
- Quito, Ecuador
- Santiago, Chile
- Buenoes Aires, Argentina
- Montevideo, Uruguay
Well Below Average
- Guadalajara, Mexico
- Lima, Peru
Photos (including captions) via Siemens