Colombian capital Bogotá this month announced a target to improve air quality by 10 per cent on average in the next four years as part of broader development plans that feature sustainability as “the main axis”.
Bogotá’s District Development Plan 2020-2024: a new social and environmental contract for the 21st century, dubbed #ElPlanQueNosReactiva (“The Plan That Reactivates Us”), allocates the equivalent of billions of US dollars towards a green recovery from COVID-19.
“We have decided not to lose this cleaner air that we have had during the pandemic,” said Mayor of Bogotá Claudia López Hernández last week in webinar organized by WWF, Clear Skies to Clean Air.
The city recorded an 80 per cent drop in concentrations of particulate pollution in early April, though it saw air pollution spikes from forest fires in the Orinoquía and Venezuela that also wafted into other Colombian cities, including Medellín.
The plan is the City’s main salvo against air pollution since the new mayor took office earlier this year, and focuses heavily on sustainable, multimodal mobility, which commands the biggest share of planned funding at 36,919,236 million Colombian pesos (about US$9.8 billion), followed by education and health.
“It means continuing to electrify our mass transport system, which is based on buses, and going ahead and advancing with a metro system that is fully electric,” said Mayor López.
“We now have more than 1 million trips on a daily basis by bike. We already have 560 kilometres of cycleways, which is, I think, the greatest bike network among developing cities. And we have a plan, a goal to increase that by 50 per cent, to 60 kilometres more bike lanes around the city,” she continued.
Since March, when the pandemic started, Bogotá temporarily added 80 kilometres of bike lanes to its existing network, joining many major cities around the world including New York, Milan, Barcelona, London and Paris, which sought to help citizens with safe physical distancing as they took to their bicycles to avoid crowds on public transport.
“There are more people walking, so we need to improve the network for pedestrians, too,” Mayor Lopéz said.
“I think this is going to be the most important thing, because, of course, if people are walking or bike riding, they have a lower risk of being infected by coronavirus in the short term, but, also, in the long term, it has a very good impact on improving air pollution and also, reducing congestion in the city. So this is not going to be temporary,” she said.
Bogotá’s 8 million residents are joined each day by about 2 million commuters, who shuttle in and out from the surrounding municipalities for work and education, leading the city government to initiate a regional approach to air quality improvement.
“We need to offer a clean option of metro regional transportation for those 2 million people,” said Mayor Lopéz.
“We just approved a constitutional reform that allows us to build an institution for the metropolitan area, between Bogotá and Cundinamarca, the province surrounding us that has 46 municipalities,” said Mayor Lopéz.
“That was a sort of miracle in the middle of a pandemic,” she added.
Bogotá is cradled high in the middle of three mountain systems, among which is nestled a world-famous moor system that feeds freshwater to the city and its surrounding provinces, adding impetus to the creation of a formal regional institution.
“Creating this institution is very important, firstly, for general environmental protection, but secondly, because we will not be able to achieve our goals if our surrounding municipalities don’t share the vision and the goals, because air doesn’t know our administrative and political boundaries.
“Because of that, we also need to build this clean mass transit system at the regional level, because otherwise we can have, within the city, this metro system, this bike system, this pedestrian system, but if people come into the city every day with diesel, fuel based cars… we’re not going to be able to achieve our own measures,” said Mayor Lopéz.
Her administration expects that these measures, combined, to make “the most important contribution in the long term” to air quality improvement, in a city where transportation contributes over 70 per cent of air pollution.
Bogotá will also impose restrictions on trucks, which will have to comply with standards if they wish to enter the city, and is considering offering incentives for switches to cleaner technology.
“Because, otherwise, we’re not going to be able to achieve our goal of 10 per cent air pollution reduction,” explained the mayor.
The proposed budget includes an investment of close to 30,000 million Colombian pesos (about US$8 million) specifically towards the goal of reducing concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM10 and PM2.5) by 10 per cent through the implementation of the city’s 2030 Comprehensive Air Quality Management Plan.
Under the 2030 plan, the Ministry of Environment intends to strengthen and expand the city’s coverage of air quality monitoring, focusing on its southwestern areas, where air pollution concentrations are highest, and where the administration has now announced it will to work with all relevant actors to achieve a deeper reduction of 18 per cent.
The Council approved Bogotá’s development plan after extensive debate in which lobbyists and citizens participated.
“We qualify our air quality goal to integrate one of our major concerns: that there is air governance. We will seek the participation of civil society and academia that allows us to move forward to meet our air quality goals,” said Bogotá’s Secretary of the Environment, Carolina Urrutia.
The new development plan is closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals, with 67 per cent of its goals directly related to CONPES 3918, Colombia’s strategy to implement the SDGs in the country, and 90 per cent of its budget related to SDG targets, including those related to air quality and climate change.
“We managed to expand our action plan to commit the District to reducing at least 15 per cent of its greenhouse gases during this Government. We are all going to have to contribute to reduce those gases that are causing climate change,” Urrutia said.
The city’s administration sees the environment as “an ally for the economic reactivation of the city”.
“It is an opportunity to create green jobs and businesses, to encourage the transition from grey to green economies, to promote energy transitions, and we will do so,” it stated in a media release.
Emphasizing its focus on sustainability and air quality, Bogotá’s district administration has taken on the slogan #UnidosPorUnNuevoAire, or United for A New Air, promising to work to protect the health of those most vulnerable to pollution: children and the elderly.
“It is the first time that as a local government Bogota set specific goals and committed itself to specific goals to clean air pollution. It seems modest, but… because air pollution has increased systematically, and we committed to decrease it by 10 per cent on average in the next four years, it is quite ambitious, as the experts on this topic know. It’s such a hard job to get done,” said Mayor Lopéz.
Bogotá economy has been badly hit by measures to halt the spread of COVID-19 since it went into lockdown in mid-March, the earliest of all Colombian cities.
But, as it emerges from pandemic restrictions, the mayor sees opportunities to invest in a sustainable recovery, emphasizing, among other things, inclusive education and attracting green and tech jobs that allow for flexible movement.
“We’re going to take the advantage that the pandemic allows us to speed up this agenda for clean air and for different modes of clean and green transportation, and we’re going to take that opportunity forward,” Mayor Lopéz said.
Read the media release from the Ministry of Environment here: Plan de Desarrollo: Mejorar la calidad del aire 10 %, prioridad para esta Administración
See the Mayor’s presentation of the plan here: Plan de Desarrollo 2020-2024: un nuevo contrato social y ambiental para el siglo XXI
Watch the WWF webinar here (when available) here (scroll to “Clear Skies to Clean Air”)
Banner photo by Carlos Felipe Pardo/CC BY 2.0