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Calderon tells G20 that the future is green

June 23, 2012

“The eyes of the world are on us,” President Felipe Calderon announced at the opening of the G20 summit in Los Cabos this week. “As leaders of G20, we have a great responsibility.”

While much of the discussion was focused on the European economic crisis, the world’s most powerful leaders also share a responsibility to protect the planet and promote clean energy.

Calderon currently heads the G20 and with Mexico’s presidential election looming on July 1, this summit represented his last moment in the international spotlight.  Calderon’s bloody war on organized crime has largely dominated his presidency, but he hopes to leave a more positive legacy with regard to renewable energy.

“As the president of Mexico, I have strongly endorsed green growth as the model for my country’s long-term development,” Calderon wrote on the World Economic Forum website this week. “A growth model that improves resource efficiency and mitigates climate change also generates a number of reinforcing benefits including accelerated job creation, healthier populations, expanded access to secure energy supplies and sustained global economic growth.”

Calderon is honorary chairman of the Green Growth Action Alliance launched by the Task Force for Green Growth at a G20 business meeting on Monday. The alliance is “a unique public-private partnership among over 40 energy companies, banks and development finance institutions,” Calderon explained. The idea is to convince the G20 and other governments to adopt policies that are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.

Calderon is already leading the way, having signed a new Climate Change Act earlier this month, following approval by both houses of the Mexican Congress. The bill is only the fifth of its kind in the world, with similar acts previously passed in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

It obliges future Mexican governments to meet regular carbon emissions reduction targets, cutting emissions by 30 percent by 2020 and 50 percent by 2050. Additionally, 24 percent of electricity in Mexico must be generated from renewable sources by 2024.

To ensure these targets are met, the bill also provides the government with new powers to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and introduce incentives to drive investment in renewable energy.

The government already offers several incentives for companies to use wind energy, such as tax breaks for those that build farms themselves, or discounts on electricity prices for firms that sign long-term power contracts with wind farms. The likes of Bimbo and Wal-Mart have already signed up.

In March, Calderon inaugurated Latin America’s largest wind farm in La Ventosa, Oaxaca. He claimed the farm, owned by Spanish company Acciona, has the potential to generate all of the energy consumed in Mexico. This ambitious goal remains a long way from becoming reality, despite significant growth in the clean energy sector in recent years.

In 2005 Mexico was producing a pitiful three megawatts of wind power per year. The Mexican Wind Energy Association (AMEE) predicts that figure will have risen 400-fold to two gigawatts by the end of 2012, but this would still only account for less four percent of Mexico’s energy needs.

The world’s 14th biggest economy, Mexico was ranked 24th on the planet by the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC) last year. But it is expected to rise to number 20 by the end of 2012 and GWEC Secretary General Steve Sawyer said Mexico’s wind industry is set to become the fastest growing of all the G-20 nations this year.

An even larger wind farm is also planned to open later this year, owned by the Macquarie Group’s Mexico hedge fund, in partnership with Mitsubishi Corp and PGGM, a leading Dutch pension fund.

Another recent triumph for renewable energy in Mexico was the opening of a plant which captures harmful greenhouse gases from a landfill site in Aguascalientes and converts them into electricity for use in the nearby Nissan factory. Operated by British company Ener-G, the plant cost 7.1 million dollars and generates enough electricity for Nissan to manufacture around 37,000 vehicles per year.

While much progress has been made, Mexico’s record on environmentalism is not as rosy as it appears at first sight. Local communities have raised a range of complaints in areas such as Oaxaca, where wind farms have been installed.

Indigenous groups say small farmers were duped into leasing their land below market rates to make way for the rapid expansion, while some residents were arbitrarily fenced out of their land in violation of the law. Irrigation canals and fields have been destroyed during construction, and locals complain they see only a small share of benefits from projects that have wrecked their communities.

Although the new Climate Change Act is cause for optimism, an inspection of Mexico’s record on reforestation also provides reason for concern.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) ranks Mexico as fourth in the world for the number of trees planted since UNEP’s “Billion Trees Campaign” began in 2007. But critics such as Greenpeace claim that up to 70 percent of all lumber sold in Mexico has been illegally harvested, while under 60 percent of trees planted in national campaigns survive their first few critical years.

Mexico has taken some important steps toward a greener future under Calderon, but if his lofty aims are to become a reality then future governments will have to do much more to enforce the new legislation.

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