Live from Mexico City: Siemens Latin American Green City Index
We were fortunate enough to be invited to attend the presentation of the Siemens Latin American Green City Index this morning. It’s a cooperation between Siemens and the Economist Intelligence Unit that evaluated 17 major Latin American cities on eight equally weighted criteria: Energy and CO2, Land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, air quality and environmental governance. The Index is a follow-up to the European Green City Index, launched in 2007, and is supposed to be rolled out all over the world, next in Asia.
The overall results looked like this:
Well below average
Well above average
Rio de Janeiro
Some of the most interesting facts come when you compare the cities within the individual categories. For example, while Santiago comes first in the transport ranking, it comes in last in terms of energy and CO2. Another interesting fact is that out of the six top cities, five are Brazilian. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that their energy performance is so strong: Most Brazilian cities get around 80% of their energy supplied by hydroelectric power, one of the highest rates in the world (and certainly higher than even the goals of environmentally minded American cities). This single factor is not enough to push these cities to the top (if it were, Mexico City would be ranked much higher). Another factor in Brazil’s success in this index is the strong environmental governance that local and regional officials have shown over the past 40 years. Brazil has among the strongest land use regulations in all of Latin America and innovative transport solutions like bus rapid transit were first experimented with there. The country as a whole shows a strong commitment to many aspects of planning sustainable cities, chief among them the recognition that a holistic approach is much effective than tackling issues separately.
I also want to highlight the concept of environmental governance. It is purely qualitative and thus harder to measure than some of the other categories, but it really reveals where the city is planning to go in terms of commitment to mitigating their footprint. For example, while Mexico City is only average in the entire index, in terms of environmental governance they rank well above average. Much of this is due to a UN report from 1992, which ranked Mexico City as the city with the worst air pollution in the world. Since then, city leaders have taken a comprehensive approach to reducing pollution, by, for example, installing one of the most modern monitoring programmes in the world, with great success. For example, the level of sulphur dioxide in the air has been to about 1/6 of its 1992 level. Mexico City’s leader have really stepped up in the past two decades, and, while there is certainly still a long way to go, their consistent commitment to making Mexico City greener is more than promising.
After the presentation, I had a chance to speak with Javier Corcuera, the president of the EPA of the city of Buenos Aires. His city did not fare very well in the index and he had several interesting observations as to why that may be. The first issue, as the mayor of Mexico City also pointed out, is size. Cities like Buenos Aires and Mexico City are simply much larger than Montevideo or Porto Alegre, and thus incremental changes don’t make as much of a difference. Moreover, the growth in Buenos Aires is largely uncontrolled, making it much harder for the city to plan infrastructure. He did point out that during the reading of the Mexico City Pact, Greenpeace singled out Buenos Aires as the only city in the world with a net zero garbage project. Moreover, the Siemens presentation highlighted the advances the city has been making, specifically in the transport sector and energy efficiency in buildings. For example, the city is placing a strong emphasis on sustainable mobility, introducing hybrid electric buses made entirely in Argentina into its fleet. Nevertheless, the city has a long way to go, especially in dealing with its water systems. 41% of the city’s potable water is lost due to leakages, while city residents have the highest rate of water consumption in the index, 669 litres of water per person per day. The average for the Latin American index is 264 litres per day. It appears that the major issue in Buenos Aires as compared to Sao Paulo or even Curitiba is that city and local governments continue to see many of these efforts separately, to be solved one by one, rather than intrinsically linked.
So what do you think of the index? Is it a fair way to rank cities and their sustainability efforts?
Want more info on how your city fared? Go to http://www.siemens.com/press/en/events/corporate/2010-11-lam.php
Sustainable Cities Collective