Uncontrolled growth and lack of access to technology are driving the cities of the southern half of the Earth to the verge of environmental collapse. At the recent conference of the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS), with delegates from universities in Tokyo, Sweden, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Federal Swiss Institute of Technology, experts discussed how to end this negative trend in the developing world?s urban areas.

In the northeastern Chinese province of Shandong, home to 87 million people, pollution from coal-burning electrical plants causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. The capital of the province, Jinan, with 5 million inhabitants, is one of the seven most contaminated cities in China, according to the World Bank.

Because of its enormous population of 1.2 billion people and the widespread use of coal, China is the world?s third leading producer of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases believed to contribute to global warming. The burning of coal also releases other gases and particles that cause serious respiratory ailments, according to Baldur Eliasson, head of the AGS China Energy Technology Program.

Eliasson says energy demand in Shandong will triple by 2020, and a million people will die each year due to air pollution. ?The purpose of the program is to measure the true impact of coal-fired electrical generation, taking into account the environmental and social costs, and to develop effective solutions,? he says.

The air is also polluted in Bogota, Columbia. The mayor’s office launched the ?Transmilenio? plan in late 2000, aimed at improving air quality in Bogota, the third most polluted city in Latin America. Until the plan took effect, 22,000 outdated, heavily-polluting buses were used by more than 70 percent of Bogota?s 7 million residents. The new bus fleet will be equipped with catalytic converters and there will be a 100 percent increase in parking prices in downtown Bogota, as well as a 20 percent tax on gasoline.

In Mexico City air pollution is legendary. The problem is due to geographic and climate conditions in the valley where the city is located, according to MIT Professor Mario Molina, the 1995 Nobel Laureate for Chemistry. Molina heads a program which is trying to understand the sources of pollution in the city.

?In the first phase, we made recommendations that the government followed in its initiatives to curb emissions. The second phase entails additional studies, such as measuring contaminants that are not routinely monitored,? says Molina. ?We are attempting to understand better the chemistry of the atmosphere and the composition of the fine particles, which are very harmful to human health.?

Only half of the automobiles in Mexico City have catalytic converters. The city should ?provide incentives for renewal of the taxi fleet, which are relatively few but circulate many hours each day, and set deadlines for removing the oldest cars from the streets,? Molina says. When it comes to privately owned cars, ?Inspections are not rigorous, and many people need their old vehicles for work.?

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