CERES Conference on Energy and Sustainable Development

The reason for my trip to Puebla last week was to participate, as a late addition, in a conference entitled Energía para el Desarolla Sustentable en América del Norte, or Energy for Sustainable Development in North America.  The conference was hosted by CERES, the Centro de Estudios de Desarollo Regional y Estratégicos (Center for Regional and Strategic Development), which is a working group organized by professors at the local universities in Puebla — I’m tempted to write UDLA, la Universidad de las Americas, but I’m not positive.  Now that the acronyms are out of the way….

The conference had a dual focus on energy and sustainability, but, from the outset, it wasn’t clear as to how the boundaries that define “sustainability” had been set.  For example, many of the speakers focused on or at least mentioned the prospects for deep water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.  Of course, maintaining Mexican energy “independence” (in quotes because Mexico produces enough oil to satisfy domestic demand but lacks the processing capabilities) is one part of a sustainable system, but it wasn’t until the end of the conference that climate change and global warming were highlighted.  

Perhaps it’s me, but in a world where carbon emissions are likely to be restricted and where a carbon cap of one flavor or another is likely to be eternally placed on every country, emphasizing the prospects for Mexican oil drilling seems, at least to me, unsustainable.  That said, I don’t think this was an artifact of the organizers of the conference (in fact, I thought they did a very good job), but rather a view into the general perception in Mexico, in which climate change just isn’t a part of the national debate.  After all, whereas SEMARNAT, the division of the federal government tasked with developing Mexican climate change policy, made a brief appearance at the CEDAN conference in January, they were absent here.

However, the eternal optimist in me sees reason to believe that the tides will soon change.  The Mexican economy is too dependent on the rest of the world, specifically the U.S., for Mexico to remain isolated.  If the rest of the world pursues a more “sustainable” path, I can not but see that Mexico will follow this path, as well.  The more important question that I am unable to answer is whether Mexico will win or lose as a result of a shift in global tides.  Although I am certain that Mexico can come out far ahead, as this blog is only semi-anonymous, I think it best that I stop here….


México, D.F.

Obama Engaging Mexico on Climate Change?

Ok, so the title is a little misleading, but the White House sent out a press release on Friday that the Obama administration is seeking to meet with and engage representatives from “major economies,” including Mexico, in preparation for the next major climate summit (December 2009, Copenhagen).  You can read about it on the NY Times environment blog.  I see it as a positive sign that the U.S. will be becoming more active in driving global climate policy.

That said, President Obama will be here in Mexico in a week or so for meetings with President Calderon… I’m sure that the drug war, economic issues, and the little tit-for-tat regarding Mexican trucks on U.S. highways will be on the top of the agenda, but it’s possible that climate change will also be discussed.  We’ll see.


México, D.F.

Mexico to promote forest conservation and management to combat climate change

It was reported today that Mexico will promote a policy of forest conservation and management at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) meeting next Monday, 16 March 2009.  CONAFOR, the Comisión Nacional Forestal apparently stated that Mexico feels that conservation and sustainable forest management are “key” to mitigating climate change and a “cornerstone” of sustainable development.  I say “apparently” because I can’t find the original message from CONAFOR (it’s not posted on their website, at least not yet) and the quotes are from El Universal’s interpretation of the report.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of proper forest management or it’s place as part of a balanced and across-the-board effort on climate change; it’s just that forests can only absorb so much carbon in total and, even then, they don’t absorb carbon fast enough to offset Mexico’s current (and growing) rate of emission.  It will be interesting to see how these policies develop….


México, D.F.

The World Bank, climate change, and Mexico

The World Bank’s presence in México is through the auspices of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or IBRD.  The IBRD is one of the five sub-institutions that comprise World Bank and has offices south of the city center on Insurgentes Sur.  (It’s near the changarro with the atomic salsa).

Late last year, the World Bank/IBRD completed a $500M ($USD) Development Policy Loan, or DPL, to México in response to the country’s previous efforts on climate change.  The objective of the loan is to support future action, however, it is only tied to steps that México has already taken, such as the creation of a National Strategy for Climate Change (Estrategía Nacional de Cambio Climático) in 2007 and the establishment of an Intersecretarial Commission on Climate Change (Comisión Intersecretarial de Cambio Climático).  The summary of the DPL is a good source for more background on the loan.

The underlying structure and motivation for the DPL reflects the World Bank’s self-ascribed role as supporting the development of Mexican environmental policy.  The World Bank doesn’t write policy, per se, but it acts to provide information and reports that assist groups that do, as well as the occasional $500M carrot for policy development.  It seems to me that the contribution made by the bank is largely driven by forces within the Mexican government; that is, the Bank does not actively seek to promote policy, but it will support ministries within the government that ask the bank for support.  Ultimately, the success of Mexican climate change policy development therefore rests on the efforts of high-level members within the government.

My comment/opinion on the role of the bank in policy development (which may change as I learn more) is largely based upon discussions that I’ve had with bank personnel here and in Washington, as well as my experience looking in to the two motivations for the DPL cited above: the National Strategy, which was not included in the Calderon administration’s overall development plan, and the commission, which, as far as I can tell, isn’t known among those at the higher levels of Calderon’s cabinet.  I’m still looking in to the commission (more soon, hopefully), and I’ll have some things to say on the national strategy document in a few weeks.

Moving forward, the key questions to me seem to be to identify issues within the government in Mexico, such as political forces and governing structure, that are cause for the setbacks with the national strategy and commission and, possibly, identify ways in which the World Bank/IBRD can ensure that past policy action in México maintains momentum for future success.


México, D.F.

CEMDA, climate change, and Mexico

This is the first in a series of (hopefully non-opinionated) posts regarding organizations in Mexico City that are working on climate change.

CEMDA, or the Centro Mexicano de Derecho Ambiental (Mexican Center for Environmental Rights) is an NGO headquartered in Mexico City that works to support legislative and educational action on environmental issues, including conservation, sustainability, and the development of environmental rights. Their primary impact on the formation of national policy is through this supportive role and connections with other NGOs. CEMDA is non-profit and is not affiliated with any political party; support for their work is a mix of project fees, grants, and proceeds from legal settlements.

CEMDA was founded in 1993 and, although not directly sponsored by NAFTA, is born of the environmental focus brought to Mexico by the trade pact. CEMDA’s prior projects have included work on fuel/technology standards and the Metrobús service in Mexico City. Recently, their work has begun to take a greater focus on climate change, a topic which seems to match well with the organization’s core strengths. It’s likely that CEMDA’s contribution to Mexican climate change policy will be similar to the supportive roles it has played in its previous work. More (current) information is available online at CEMDA’s website.

CEMDA’s address on the web is: http://www.cemda.org.mx


México, D.F.

CEDAN Conference On Cross-Border Climate Policy

Monday and Tuesday of this week, I attended a workshop on cross-border climate policy between Canada, Mexico, and the U.S., at the Tecnológico de Monterrey’s campus in Mexico City (map).  The  conference was hosted by one of Tec.’s policy research groups, called CEDAN, or el Centro de Diálogo y Análisis sobre América del Norte.

I have a tough time gauging attendance at the workshop, mostly because I don’t know what organizers were planning for.  However, those that did attend represented many of the climate change-planning organizations in México, including senior policy-makers from the mayor’s office, the sub-directors of federal institutions such as CTS (Centro de Transport Sustentable), SEMARNAT (Secretaria de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales), and INE (Instituto Nacional de Ecología), directors of NAFTA-sponsored environmental policy groups (COCEF, CEC), and professors from universities in Canada, the U.S., and México.  Attendees were very knowledgeable and the presentations were informative.  The opening press conference of the event even brought out the mayor de la Ciudad de México, Marcelo Ebrard.

Considering that this event was on climate policy, however, noticeably absent were representatives from Mexico’s industrial sector.  As far as I could tell, neither PEMEX nor CEMEX, the oil and cement monopolies, nor any of the other major (electricity, mining, agriculture, tourism) or minor industries sent representatives.  More disappointing was that institutions such as SEMARNAT, which are responsible for outlining México’s national climate change strategy, including Mexico’s pledge at Poznan to reduce emissions to half of 2002 levels by 2050, seemed more interested in appearing, rather than participating.  

From my perspective, the conference was successful and beneficial for groups that attended and participated, even if only for the point of making contacts.  I won’t speculate here about the forces that will come into play to drive México’s climate policy in the next few years, but one would figure that this was a missed opportunity for many of these groups that did not.


México, D.F.

Mexico Pledges to Halve Carbon Emissions

Last week at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland, the Mexican Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Juan Rafael Elvira pledged that México will reduce its carbon emissions to half of the 2002 levels (EX Online, Milenio).  

I must admit, I’m a bit skeptical of the sincerity of the pledge as Mexico’s per capita consumption of carbon is already well below the developed world.  Furthermore, it’s not clear to me that Mexico has the political structure capable of addressing climate change — I’m not really sure of what Elvira’s role in Mexico’s climate change policy is.  And then there’s the technical challenge of finding ways to drastically cut already low rates of carbon emissions.  Of course, the target date for such reductions is 2050.  Do such promises really mean anything?


México, D.F.