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[BUENOS AIRES] Eight cities in Latin America will replace 40,000 passenger buses with non-polluting vehicles by 2020.

The plan, which includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions before 2019, was unveiled in the first ever Latin American mayors’ forum under the Climate Leadership Group (C40) during the signing of a declaration of intent on “clean buses” in Buenos Aires last 27 March.

The eight cities are Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Caracas, Curitiba, Mexico City, Quito, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador. Of their estimated total public transport fleet of 114,655 units by 2020, 40,000 or 35 per cent will stop using diesel fuel, which is expected to cut down 435,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.

These initiatives are crucial to combat pollution in the region. While carbon dioxide makes up 60 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Latin America, 30 per cent of these emissions come from transport. Similar efforts are also being undertaken in South-East Asia although they remain mostly within country level.

In April 2013, C40 reported the results of a test programme measuring the performance of 17 hybrid and electric buses in Bogotá, Rio de Janeiro, San Pablo and Santiago.

“The technology, which combines diesel and electricity, recorded 26 per cent fewer carbon dioxide emissions than those vehicles using diesel,” says Mauricio Osses, an engineering consultant at the International Research Center on Sustainability.

Osses tells SciDev.Net that Bogotá now has 260 hybrid buses and others are in operation in Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro and San Pablo.

In Lima, Peru, the new public transport system, the Metropolitano, is the “most advanced system when it comes to deploying a clean fleet”, according to Nicolás Estupiñan, transport specialist at the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF). The system is fuelled with natural gas like in Caracas, Cartagena and Medellín.

In Campinas, Brazil, the Chinese firm BYD is constructing a plant that will produce 1,000 electric buses every year.

In Mexico, CAF is sponsoring a programme to convert 20,000 of the 30,000 buses currently using diesel to clean energy sources. However, the main challenge is finance. A public transport diesel bus (which has two or more sections and a capacity of up to 160 passengers) costs US$250,000. But the hybrid vehicles are 25 per cent more expensive while electric vehicles cost 50 per cent more.

However, such higher initial investment cost can be offset in the long-run with lower fuel inputs.

In Argentina, a project is underway for the production, purification and application of hydrogen as a fuel and energy vector. The project will link all the research centres on hydrogen in the country to develop technology that can be used for vehicles and fixed installations.

“All of our associates are committed to the deployment of buses which run on electricity and natural gas, and hybrids”, says Luis Gutiérrez, secretary-general of the Latin American Association of Integrated Transport Systems and Bus Rapid Transit. “The use of electrical energy is advancing leaps and bounds”.

This article was originally produced by SciDev.Net’s Latin America desk in Spanish and translated for the South-East Asia & Pacific desk.