Mexico is emerging as a fascinating climate change case study.
Four years ago, the Mexican government asked companies to voluntarily report their emissions using the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. The GGP offers a metric for tracking and managing greenhouse gas emissions. Intended for both public and private use, it was developed by the World Resources Institute and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), in collaboration with businesses, governments, and environmental groups. Mexico became the first country in the developing world to implement the program on a national scale.
The Mexican Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Program focuses on outreach and education, translating materials and hosting workshops that reflect the stated needs of corporations. According to the WBCSD, emissions from participating corporations account for approximately 35% of the industrial emissions in the country.
Last year the government adopted a new climate change strategy heavily influenced by the Mexican GHG Program. The program is now “a permanent and recognized government initiative” and resources will be allocated to the environment ministry SEMARNAT (a key partner in the program) and to state environmental authorities.
Tracking emissions is just one step towards reducing emissions and Mexico has a long way to go. At present, their GHG emissions are second only to Brazil in all of Latin America. While the GGP showcases a progressive corporate culture; it also highlights contradictions in Mexico’s industrial environmental record. The thousands of maquiladoras – large-scale factories that operate with the benefit of tariff-free imports – along the US-Mexico border are infamous for industrial pollution (and extremely poor working conditions). Air pollution remains one of manufacturing’s most pervasive environmental transgressions.
The Mexican government has acted with resolve that often dwarfs the United States’ poor international environmental record. They ratified the Kyoto protocol and they now rank 4th on the 2008 Climate Change Performance Index. The CCPI is based on a country’s current emission levels, trends in emission, and climate policies. In contrast, the United States came in just before Saudi Arabia at number 55 out of 56.
It was announced Monday that Mexico will host International Earth Day 2009. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, spoke to the inherent paradox in granting Mexico the coveted recognition. Steiner allowed that, “Mexico is at the crossroads of the Green Economy, politically, physically, and practically. Firstly it still has many challenges…but (it) is also emerging as one among a group of developing economies who are bringing much needed leadership to the need for a new, comprehensive and decisive climate treaty.”
Earlier this summer, construction began on a site that may be Mexico’s largest maquiladora at a planned 500 acres. Will the new construction reflect the government’s climate change strategy? How large an impact will the public-private GGP program have?
While the effect remains to be seen, Mexico seems to be setting an example that may help catalyze significant results on a global scale. Pankaj Bhatia, director of the Greenhouse-Gas Protocol Initiative of the World Resources Institute, said earlier this year, “When we went to China, the authorities said, ‘We’d like to see how other developing countries have done,’” Bhatia said. “We provided the Chinese with the Mexican success story, and that enabled us to get a program started there.”
Weigh in. Is Mexico to be celebrated or is such simplification dangerous? By lauding the government’s achievements is the international community overlooking serious environmental injustices?