Working Paper

Air quality and health benefits of improved fuel and vehicle emissions standards in Mexico

At the North American Leaders Summit (NALS) in June 2016, the heads of the governments of Canada, Mexico, and the United States agreed to “commit to reduce air pollutant emissions by aligning air pollutant emission standards for light- and heavy-duty vehicles and corresponding ultralow-sulfur fuel standards by 2018.” To support regulatory efforts in Mexico that are necessary to achieve this goal, the ICCT coordinated the efforts of several organizations to model of the emissions, air-quality, and public-health benefits of aligning fuel and vehicle-emission standards in Mexico with the rest of North America.

The study investigated the impacts of updating three standards in Mexico to align with the international best practices employed in the rest of North America: gasoline and diesel sulfur standards, passenger vehicle emissions standards, and truck and bus emissions standards. The study partners include the Eastern Research Group (ERG), University of Tennessee (UT), and Mexico’s National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (Instituto Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático, INECC).

This study finds that full implementation of just three key fuel and vehicle standards will allow Mexico to avoid 9,000 premature deaths each year (the year 2035 was used in this analysis). The annual monetized benefits are valued at over $20.8 billion (2010 USD). Residents of Mexico will experience many additional health benefits not quantified in this analysis, including reductions in asthma impacts, chronic bronchitis, and lost work days.

As a share of the 2035 on-road transport sector emissions, these three policies will together reduce nitrogen oxides (NOx) by 66%, volatile organic compounds (VOC) by 53%, and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) by more than 90%, including an 84% drop in black carbon. As a share of total economy-wide emissions, NOx and VOC—the two key precursors in ozone production—are reduced by 43% and 31%, respectively.

These reductions translate into important air-quality benefits at both the national and local level. PM2.5 concentrations were reduced by 18% nationwide and by 20% in the Mexico City metropolitan area. During the highest season, peak ozone concentrations were reduced by 12% and 14%, respectively. These reductions would be a significant step toward reducing air-pollution incidents that impact the local economy. At the time of publication, the government is very close to adoption of an update to NOM-044 regulating emissions from heavy-duty diesel vehicles, that will bring Mexico in line with the best standards in the world. This action will achieve 69% of study’s benefits, although the new standard will introduce a delay of three years compared to what was considered in this analysis.

In order to achieve the full benefits, action is still needed on the two other key policies:

  • NOM-042, which regulates emissions from new light-duty vehicles, must be updated to bring Mexico in line with the best-in-class emissions standards considered here. Mexico could immediately align with U.S. Tier 2 standards and Euro 6 for tailpipe emissions, which are already being met by many vehicles sold in the market. But to achieve the benefits found here, all vehicles must be required to meet the much more stringent U.S.-based standards for control of evaporative emissions. U.S. Tier 3 standards, lacking an equivalent in Europe, bring significantly more health and air-quality benefits and will ensure that emissions continue to decline even as the fleet grows.
  • NOM-016, which regulates fuel quality, must be updated to reduce sulfur levels in gasoline to 10 parts per million (ppm). To avoid additional air quality impacts, waivers to increase Reid vapor pressure (RVP), which would contribute to higher VOC emissions, should not be allowed in major polluted cities or municipalities.