Mexico Shows the Way on Climate Change

, director of strategy & policy | April 23, 2012, 4:52 pm EDT
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I was pleased to see that late last week, the Mexican Senate unanimously passed domestic climate legislation that sets a target of cutting Mexico’s carbon emissions by 30 percent below business-as-usual levels by 2030, and 50 percent by 2050. The law, passed earlier in the House by a vote of 280 to 10, now goes to President Calderón for his signature.

Mexican President Felipe Calderón salutes delegates. (Photo: ENB)

In addition to the carbon targets, the law also sets an aspirational goal of generating 35 percent of Mexico’s electricity from renewable sources by 2024, calls for phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and establishes a high-level climate change commission, involving the relevant government ministries, to oversee the country’s climate policy going forward. For President Calderón, who has been very engaged on the climate issue internationally, passage of this legislation is a signal achievement and comes just months before he leaves office on July 1st.

As the world’s eleventh-largest economy, and eleventh-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Mexico’s action will have an impact on the global stage, disproving the belief of some that economic development is inextricably linked to ever-growing carbon emissions.

Of course, passage of the law was not without controversy or opposition; the country’s iron and steel trade association, CANACERO (Cámara Nacional de la Industria del Hierro y del Acero) had warned legislators in recent months that the measure could hurt the industry’s international competitiveness and lead to job losses. But as Mexico suffers through its worst drought in over 70 years, growing public concern about the impacts of climate change helped counter such industry pressure; last year’s Nielsen global sustainability survey found that a full 93 percent of Mexicans are concerned about climate change. Clearly, climate denialism isn’t making inroads south of the border.

On April 2nd, President Obama hosted President Calderón and Prime Minister Harper of Canada in Washington at the annual summit of North American leaders. The summit declaration included a pledge that the three countries would “continue our efforts to advance a lasting global solution to the challenge of climate change.” It’s now clear that Mexico is serious about this; what about the other two countries?

Under Prime Minister Harper’s “leadership,” Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol and continues to expand carbon-intensive oil production from tar sands. Here in the U.S., of course, national action to address the climate threat has stalled out in the face of well-financed industry lobbying and disinformation campaigns in recent years and the embrace of climate denialism by many Republicans, including most of the party’s recent presidential candidates.

The next North American Leaders’ Summit will be held in Mexico in 2013; perhaps President Calderón’s successor — whoever he or she may be — can tutor his or her two North American counterparts on what a real “solution to the challenge of climate change” looks like.


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  • Clifford W.

    A little unclear here…so, Mexico intends to decimate it’s private heavy manufacturing sector, essentially become perhaps the world’s 21st largest emitter of greenhouse gasses by becoming the world’s 21st largest economy? Down from 11th largest in each instance? Well, OK, sounds like a plan, amigos!

    Where do they all intend to emigrate to then? No jobs for them here in the U.S.

    • Thanks, Clifford, for your comment. It gives me an opportunity to elaborate a little on the rationale for Mexico’s new law.

      Mexico’s leaders understand that reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential not just because Mexico will suffer disproportinately from the impacts of climate change, but to spur economic development. They are interested in putting Mexico on the path to a low-carbon economy because they understand that countries that do so will reap competitive advantages in the global marketplace. They know there are tremendous opportunities for use of “no-regrets” measures — particularly in using energy more efficiently in every sector of their economy — that have positive economic rates of return and make sense even if there was no concern about climate change. They also recognize the co-benefits associated with cutting carbon pollution, including enhanced energy security (from getting the same services by using less energy and developing indigenous renewable energy resources), the human health benefits from reducing local air pollutants, and the conservation and biodiversity benefits that result from better forestry and natural resource management.

      A study undertaken by the World Bank in 2009, Low-Carbon Development for Mexico, also known in Spanish as México: Estudio sobre la Disminución de Emisiones de Carbono (MEDEC), found tremendous cost-effective potential for emissions reductions in Mexico. Under the study’s projected baseline scenario, total CO2-equivalent emissions are estimated to grow from 659 Mt in 2008 to 1,137 Mt in 2030. Through implementation of a suite of some 40 policy interventions, the MEDEC analysis finds that these emissions can be reduced by about 477 Mt in 2030 relative to the baseline. The authors observe that “adopting these interventions would yield a level of emissions that is virtually the same as that in 2008, despite significantly higher GDP and per capita income.”

      Contrary to the assumption in your comment, these emission reductions would come not primarily from the heavy manufacturing sector, but from agriculture and forestry (162 Mt CO2e), transport (131 Mt CO2e), electric power
      (91 Mt CO2e), and energy end-use (63 Mt CO2e); another 30 Mt CO2e would come from the oil and gas sector (see figure below). The study authors note that this emissions reduction potential “is conservative, in that only 40 interventions were considered and the analysis did not assume any major changes in technology.” In that regard, look at the dramatic price reductions for solar photovoltaic modules in the last couple of years, to take just one example.

      Emissions Reduction by Sector

      Nearly half of the emissions reductions result from measures that have net negative costs — their overall cost is less than the respective high-carbon alternative. These include:
      • public transport and vehicle efficiency measures,
      • most energy-efficiency measures, including electricity supply improvements, lighting, refrigeration, air conditioning, and improved cookstoves, and
      • numerous low-cost energy supply options, including industrial cogeneration and solar water heating.

      The study finds that if avoided emissions are valued even at a low figure of $10/t CO2e, “many other high-potential nterventions, including reforestation and restoration, and afforestation, yield positive benefits,” and that fully 80 percent of the greenhouse gas reduction potential of the MEDEC interventions lie below the $10/t CO2e level.”

      The bottom line is that Mexico’s new law makes sense not just as a climate protection measure, but for long-term economic competitiveness and energy security reasons as well.

      For those who want to learn more about the new Mexican climate law, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies is hosting a webinar on Monday, April 30, at 2 PM, featuring two experts from Mexico as well as Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board.