IEA Training Manual - Module 1

7.4 Sub-national example – GEO Mexico City

The GEO Cities initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) started in 2000 in response to calls by UNEP’s Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum (GC/GMEF), the Initiative for Sustainable Development in the Latin America and Caribbean region, the LAC Forum of Ministers, and the Millennium Development Goals (Goal 7 on Environmental Sustainability). The GEO Cities initiative extends the Global Environment Outlook assessment and reporting process and the underlying IEA methodology to the municipal level.

The major objectives of the GEO Cities initiative are:

  • to establish an integrated environmental assessment process that acknowledges the links between environmental conditions and human activities;
  • to contribute to local capacity development on IEA in the urban environment;
  • to establish a consensus on the most critical environmental problems in each participating city, and to formulate and implement urban strategies and plans to help cities improve urban environmental management; and
  • to promote the creation of networks of institutions in each city assessed.

Today, the GEO Cities initiative in LAC includes more than 30 cities. In Africa, Asia and the Pacific and Europe, discussion and consultations are underway to initiate similar environmental reporting for selected cities, possibly including Nairobi, Lusaka, Dakar, Dhaka, Kathmandu and Shenzhen (China).

The GEO Mexico City Environment Outlook responds to Decision 11 (Environment Indicators) of the Forum of Ministers of Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean, which requested UNEP to continue the development of sectoral and targeted assessments using the GEO approach, especially in the assessment of urban areas.

Geographical scope
The Mexico City report (PNUMA and CentroGeo 2003) is an example of a municipal level IEA in the GEO Cities initiative. The reporting program covers the Metropolitan Zone of Mexico City (MZMC), the biggest urban area in Latin America and the Caribbean. The MZMC is located in the middle of three great mountain ranges that unite in the center of Mexico, the Sierra Madre Oriental, the Sierra Madre Occidental, and the Neo-volcanic mountain range.

Figure 6: Mexico City 

When it was done
The GEO Mexico City initiative started in November 2001 and was completed in November 2003. The initial results of the assessment were reviewed by specialists at a workshop held in November 2002. That was followed by a consultation on the final draft conducted in September 2003 involving governmental officials, academics, representatives of NGOs and representatives of the private sector.

Members of assessment team
The assessment was led by UNEP, Centro de Investigaciones en Geografía y Geomática “Ing. Jorge L. Tamayo” (CentroGeo), which is part of the Public Research Center System of the National Science and Technology Council (CONACYT), with the support of the local and the national governments of Mexico.

Major environmental issues assessed
Urbanization in Mexico City has taken place in an accelerated and unorganized fashion with serious effects on the environment. The urban area, which occupied close to 12 000 hectares in 1940, grew to 148 000 hectares by 2000. The expansion has taken place at the expense of the land reserved for conservation.

All the bodies of water in the basin have suffered serious damage, and the performance of the hydrological system is at serious risk. Almost all the rivers have been diverted into pipelines, and the springs have stopped flowing naturally. Aquifers have been exploited beyond their capacity, and water must be brought in from other basins. The overexploitation of Mexico City’s aquifer, which supplies 70 per cent of the water consumed, causes sinking of land in various places, as well as cracks and fractures in pipes. The city is sinking 5–40 centimetres each year in some areas, weakening building foundations and making them more vulnerable to earthquakes.

While levels of the atmospheric levels of sulphur dioxide and lead have been reduced considerably in recent years, the situation is still critical in terms of other air pollutants (especially ground-level ozone and suspended particulates), exceeding limits 80 per cent of the time, and creating serious health risks. Dealing with air pollution in Mexico City is a complex problem because of the 3.6 million private vehicles, combined with geographic and climatic conditions that trap air pollutants in the mountain basin.

Each inhabitant generates an average of more than 1.2 kg of trash daily, resulting in more than 21 000 tonnes of solid waste per day. There is not enough space for final waste disposal sites and the existing ones are reaching the limits of their capacity. This also means that solid waste management conflicts are sure to arise between the Federal District and surrounding municipalities.

Over 20 per cent of the urban land is covered by public and private green areas, of which 55.9 per cent has trees, and the rest have lawns and/or shrubs. There is a total of 20 m2 of green area per inhabitant, a reasonably good amount compared to other places in the world. However, the number drops to only 7 m2 if one only takes into account those areas that are under some form of management.

The problems identified by the first Mexico City IEA are related to the existing urban environmental public agenda, which is resulting in:

  • the effects of the loss of natural capital and the degradation of environmental services, which increases the vulnerability of diverse segments of the population;
  • risks resulting from inappropriate land use and technology;
  • daily impacts on health and well-being caused by air pollution, problems of access to water and sanitation, a limited number of green areas, long commutes mainly using private vehicles, inadequate public transport, and invasion and deterioration of public spaces; and
  • trends in population dynamics, in unplanned land occupation, in demand for water and the consumption of energy.

The report described a series of possibilities, conditions and impediments for the development of more effective public urban environmental policies, and priorities focused on the urban environmental agenda.

Lessons learned
Significant efforts were made to develop effective spatial analyses to provide a better vision of the distinct aspects and interactions between urban development and the environment. The final result of these efforts was the preparation of a complementary product to the GEO Mexico City Report, referred to as the geotext of geospatial information. Its principal characteristics are:

  • a modelling process that defines the main messages to be communicated and from which the organization of information, texts, graphics, photographs and other multimedia resources are derived;
  • hyperlinks enabling navigation through the report, and activating the cartographic viewer tool;
  • an easy display and overlay of thematic maps and shapes, each with its relevant metadata;
  • a friendly, interactive platform accessible to any user;
  • interactivity that allows the user to incorporate new knowledge and data;
  • the end product in the form of a CD-ROM; and
  • an Internet version as an important complementary resource.

It is a tool that could be adapted to make scenarios, and to incorporate and update information.

Capacity building
The GEO Mexico City process successfully built capacity in state of the environment reporting, policy analysis and integrated reporting at a sub-national level. Capacity-building workshops were held on the methodologies of state of the environment/policy retrospective reporting using the Pressure, State, Impacts and Responses (PSIR) framework, including methods of data management. These workshops involved people from local governmental offices, academic institutions, the private sector, local experts and NGOs.

Impact and follow-up
Dissemination of the Mexico City report continues with impacts such as:

  • inclusion of the report and its findings in work and learning processes for different groups, such as academic, public and private institutions, through workshops;
  • towards the end of 2005, presentations were made in national meetings on Local Urban Observatories, with the support of UN-HABITAT, and in national seminars on the use of urban land;
  • the environmental Ombudsman of Mexico recognizes the GEO Mexico City report and its findings as one of the principal sources of information and knowledge (NEXOS Magazine, January 2006);
  • the Secretary of Environment used GEO Mexico City as a basic source to elaborate the city’s Local Agenda 21 proposal;
  • the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is using the GEO Mexico City report as a source of information for the elaboration of its new Human Development Report; and
  • the “Special report on the violation of human rights to a healthy environment and ecologically balanced by the deterioration and disappearance of the conservation land of the Federal District” acknowledges the contribution of the GEO Mexico City report and its findings.

As a complementary tool and to provide wider outreach, the geotext is to be available on the CentroGeo’s web page, providing an important collection of thematic cartography through its digital map-library.

As a result of these processes, other initiatives have been proposed in collaboration with academic and public sectors. These initiatives aim to reinforce public policies related to Mexico City’s expansion. 

Discussion Question

Taking the example of GEO Mexico City, discuss how you would design a GEO Cities process for the country where you live. What would be the geographical scope? Who would provide the mandate for such an exercise? Who would represent the audience and the decision making context for such an effort? What would be the main environmental issues to be addressed? Who would participate in the assessment process? How would it differ from a national GEO process? How could the results be best communicated? What kind of follow-up would you expect? How would the exercise build capacity?


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