Mexico seeks leading role in climate policy

Children play on the beach in Cancun beside a message placed by Oxfam International urging action at the climate conference in the Mexican resort.
Children play on the beach in Cancun beside a message placed by Oxfam International urging action at the climate conference in the Mexican resort. (Israel Leal/associated Press)
By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 28, 2010; 10:35 PM

MEXICO CITY - Mexico is battling billionaire drug mafias armed with bazookas, but when President Felipe Calderon ranks the threats his country faces, he worries more about methane gas, dwindling forests and dirty refineries.

Calderon is a climate wonk. Who knew?

At a summit meeting last month attended by the leaders of Central America and Colombia, Calderon spoke of the hemispheric struggle against drug traffickers - and then proceeded to talk passionately about the Mesoamerican Environmental Sustainability Strategy.

"He is obsessed by climate change," said one of his press advisers, who claims that his boss enjoys discussing incandescent light bulbs - and don't get him started on thermoelectric power generation.

Calderon hopes to play a leading role as host of the United Nations climate conference starting this week in Cancun, where he will advocate a "third way" for developing countries such as Mexico: making commitments to serious, verifiable reductions in greenhouse gases in exchange for billions in aid and technology transfers from big polluters such as the United States and European Union.

"The president is extremely engaged and very committed. He has instructed us to move, and move now, and not wait for anybody else," said Fernando Tudela, the deputy secretary of planning and environmental policy.

Mexico is raising efficiency standards and helping citizens replace old refrigerators and air conditioners that don't meet them. It is ratcheting up mandatory emissions controls for vehicles and struggling to reduce the number of aging, heavily polluting buses on its roads. Government lenders are offering "green mortgages" with lower interest rates to home buyers who insulate windows or install solar panels.

Officials are having landfills covered to trap methane gas and planning power plants fueled by garbage; the first such plant will be built in Monterrey. The state oil company, Pemex, has promised to slash the amount of methane it wastes at its refineries by creating cogeneration energy plants.

By 2012, if it stays on track, Mexico will have reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 50 million tons, equal to the carbon produced by 45 days of domestic oil production.

Calderon's energy minister, Georgina Kessel, calls climate change "the greatest challenge of the 21st century."

Mexico is the only developing country that has produced full inventories of all its greenhouse gas emissions.

The country of 110 million people, which stretches from northern deserts to southern jungles and has extensive coral reefs off its shores, is especially vulnerable to climate change. It is also a major agricultural, manufacturing and oil producer. According to U.N. estimates, Mexico, with the 14th-largest economy in the world, contributes between 1.5 and 3 percent of global emissions.

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