Image credits: Andrea Leopardi
News Article

Will Mexico City’s Smog Remain?

By Cas Biekmann | Tue, 04/28/2020 - 15:05

Improvement of air quality is one of the silver linings that COVID-19 lockdowns have showcased globally. Cities with high pollution levels, are being witness to the Earth’s healing. Nevertheless, Mexico City so far has offered no such solace, reported Reuters. Diesel generators, garbage dumps and forest fires guarantee that the city’s smog remains. Adding lower oil prices to the mix might push back the goal of clear skies for the city in the near future.

Mexico City’s Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum acknowledged a full lockdown enforced by police is neither possible nor desirable. There has been a sharp decline in traffic and Google’s mobility report showed a decrease in mobility of around 60 percent. Further measures announced by Sheinbaum such as a one-week driving ban will lead to a further decrease. Mexico City’s pollution does not come from cars alone, however. An increase of fossil fuels in the domestic sphere and open-air garbage storage worsens the air quality. Furthermore, industrial activity surrounding the city, forest fires and ashes from volcano Popocatepetl are added to the mix. “We are seeing that (pollution) is coming down but it is not enough to bring air quality below the maximum pollution standard,” said Sergio Hernandez, General Director of Air Quality in Mexico City to Reuters.

Many businesses, such as hotels, still operate with fossil fuel generators. A recent oil price crash significantly lowered the cost of hydrocarbons and now that many planes are grounded and factories closed, there is more supply than demand, which is keeping prices down to practically nothing. This provides little initiative to switch to renewables, warned The International Energy Agency (IEA), as it argued the price crash would have consequences for the energy sector. Furthermore, Energíahoy quoted University of Chicago professor Ryan Kellogg in his argument that lower oil prices would complicate the entry of electric cars into the market. “After all, if petrol is cheap, why switch to a more expensive alternative if the longer-term benefits are not yet clear?” said Kellogg.  

Nonetheless, Kellogg does not think that the development of renewable energy will be halted. Energíahoy further argues that with oil prices dropping, producers and investors might look for renewable sources instead, as they offer higher ROIs. This shift is marked by major Oil companies diversifying their portfolios toward renewable projects. “At current prices, the profitability of oil and gas is being similar to what investors can expect from low-risk wind and solar projects,” said Valentina Kretzschmar of Wood Mackenzie. Mexico City itself is investing in changing its fossil fuel generators toward sustainable solar energy as well. Its “Solar City” project promotes the installation of solar panels on the roofs of public buildings. While its investment of MX$3.5 million (US$140,000), as reported by Energia a Debate, is not a massive one, the city makes a clear effort to create an example toward renewable solutions in the future. Even though Mexico City’s smog remains, clearer skies could still lie ahead.

The data used in this article was sourced from:  
Reuters, Energíahoy, Mexico City Twitter, IEA, Energia a Debate
Photo by:   Andrea Leopardi
Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst