Passage of climate change legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday was the United States’ first step in a more robust, forward-looking policy to cut greenhouse-gas emissions. But look to the other side of the Rio Grande and you’ll find a country that is showing new leadership in going green.
Yes, the outlook for Mexico may be somewhat grey these days if you're looking at the economic situation or the loss in tourism revenue. But Mexico is fast becoming one of Latin America’s best examples of how a government can address climate change and open the door for greater use of alternative energy.
Mexico’s role is quite welcome in a region that lags behind the world in terms of its investments in alternative renewable energy and in fighting climate change. In 2007, Latin America produced just 1.7 percent of global renewable energy, including wind, solar, geothermal, and small hydro energy. This correlated with the region’s ability to attract a meager 3 percent of the $87 billion globally invested in renewable projects. And while Latin America may not be a big contributor of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, climate change is intensifying tropical rains, tornados, hurricanes, and dry seasons across the world. Mexico and the rest of the region stand to lose out by not taking action now.
So it is welcome news that the Mexican government is tackling environmental issues despite the economic downturn. Last week President Felipe Calderón promised a CO2 reduction of 50 million tons per year—a far-reaching commitment for a developing country. He also warned leaders that steps should be taken to reduce harmful emissions, with the alternative being more costly investments down the road. Calderón warned that the effects of climate change are likely to cost the country more than 6 percent of GDP in the future.
Even more encouraging is that his words seem to be backed by concrete action. In November 2008, Congress passed a renewable energy bill that outlines the basic rules for electricity generation. The legislation allows for private companies to supply and distribute renewable energy as long as it is for private individuals and businesses -with the government continuing to have a monopoly over the generation, distribution and supply of electricity to the general public.
President Calderón is also prioritizing development of one of the world’s largest wind farms, which is slated for completion by the end of his term in 2012. Located in the Oaxaca region—one of the windiest places in the world—this wind farm is expected to be capable of generating 2.5 gigawatts of energy per year. That type of generation will have the capacity to power the equivalent of 700,000 U.S. homes, and will place Mexico as one of the world’s top-12 wind-energy producers.
By going green Mexico is both creating a more environmentally sustainable future and opening up new areas to create jobs in the green economy. Latin America should follow its lead.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.