En Route To Cleaner Air: Urban air pollution management in Santiago, Chile

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Santiago suffers from a serious air pollution problem. With six million people, a third of the country’s population, in a bowl surrounded by the Andes, air quality is among the worst in the world. Two major sources of airborne particulates were exhaust from cars and buses.

As a result, the city embarked on programs to have catalytic converters installed on all cars and particle filters (DPFs) installed on the city’s bus fleet. In both cases, the city had to moderate its original plan and encourage private sector actors to embrace the new policies. In both cases, the city was ultimately successful: most cars in Santiago today have catalytic converters, and within a decade nearly all buses will have DPFs.

These policies were relatively easy wins, importing existing technology that had already been scaled in other countries and could be introduced with little cost or inconvenience to domestic industry. However, cars and buses accounted for only a part of Santiago’s air pollution, and much of the rest comes from geography, agriculture, and domestic industry, sources that will be much harder to deal with. Santiago’s air pollution is thus much improved from what it would have been, especially as the city has continued to grow, but not substantially better than it was. Santiago has solved a problem without solving the problem.