Last month, SPTrans, São Paulo’s Transit Agency, banned the procurement of new diesel buses in the city. The decision signals a growing movement toward zero-emission buses across Latin America to drastically reduce emissions, mitigate climate change, improve air quality, avoid premature deaths and improve public transport.

Earlier this year, Bogotá – a signatory of C40’s Green and Healthy Streets Accelerator – stopped procuring fossil-fuelled buses in the city. São Paulo is now following suit, transforming one of the largest bus fleets in Latin America, with more than 13,000 buses. 

Diesel buses already in operation in São Paulo will remain until the end of their useful life. However, the ban means bus operators must now procure only zero-emission buses.

The measure underscores the city’s commitment to comply with its Climate Change Law and 2021-2024 Goals Programme, which calls on the city to make at least 20% of the city’s vehicle fleet zero-emission by the end of 2024. More broadly, the long-term goals are also included in PlanClima SP, the city’s Climate Action Plan, which was elaborated in partnership with C40 with a vision until 2050.

Considering that electric buses represent the best technology currently available to meet pollutant reduction targets, it is expected that by the end of 2024, São Paulo will have at least 2,600 e-buses operating on municipal lines.

São Paulo’s Climate Law

In 2009, São Paulo introduced Law 14,933, known as the Climate Law, establishing an ambitious decarbonisation target that called for a fossil fuel-free fleet by 2018. Noting the difficulty in reaching the target, the city approved Law 16.802, an amendment to the Climate Law, in 2018.

The Climate Law sets gradual targets to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and local pollutants from the city’s bus fleet: CO2 emissions are to be reduced by 50% within 10 years (by 2028), rising to 100% within 20 years. Particulate matter and nitrogen oxides are to be reduced by 95% within 20 years. To achieve this, the Mayor Ricardo Nunes defined the short-term goal to integrate, during his administration until 2024, at least 2,600 zero-emission buses, which equates to 20% of the city’s total fleet. Currently, the city’s zero-emission fleet consists of 201 trolleybuses and 18 battery electric buses procured via a pilot project, which the ZEBRA Partnership has monitored since its inception.

In July 2021, the mayor reaffirmed his commitment to zero-emission buses through the launch of the 2021-2024 Goals Programme, which included a pledge to adopt cleaner buses.

Achieving the Law’s Targets

Air pollution in São Paulo is still a health priority, as the PM2.5 annual average (15.7 µg/m3) is still three times above the WHO recommended threshold (5 µg/m3). The ban on new diesel buses is an integral part of the city’s plan to cut pollutant emissions by 50% in 2028, in line with its Climate Law. Were the city to continue to procure new diesel buses, it would compromise compliance with the law and risk undermining the financial security of the city’s public transport system in the future.

According to a study conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation, banning new diesel buses is urgently needed to comply with the emissions reduction targets of the Law for 2028. Estimates suggest that CO2 and nitrogen oxide emissions will reach 2028 reduction targets, while particulate matter will be 1% short of the goal. The actual emissions decrease will depend on the gradual changes in fleet composition, but the results show that the city must start the fleet renovation process as soon as possible to comply with the law.

In addition, the gradual electrification of buses represents a significant step towards improving air quality and public health. The reduction in air pollution will mitigate the risks of cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. A high-level analysis from C40 research shows that if only new zero emission buses are integrated into the city’s fleet from now on, an estimated 151 premature deaths will be prevented between 2022 and 2028.

C40 has been working with São Paulo since 2019 to support the city’s transition towards a zero-emission bus fleet, under the umbrella of the ZEBRA Partnership (and more recently also the TUMI E-Bus Mission programme), creating an ecosystem of manufacturers and investors ready to enter the local bus market, and providing technical assistance to the city’s transit authority and private operators. A growing number of bus manufacturers are providing zero emission bus technology in the country, helping the city reach its target of deploying 2600 e-buses by 2024. 

C40 supports this leading example of São Paulo and will continue to work with cities and transportation stakeholders in Brazil and around the world to help them adopt similarly ambitious emissions reduction targets and zero-emission bus fleet aspirations.

Learn more about ways cities can promote the use of zero-emission-vehicles at the C40’s Knowledge Hub.

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