A novel residential water conservation-socioeconomic development project in Mexico highlights the linkages between water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, environmental degradation, climate change, and the broad-based social and economic development opportunities afforded by climate change adaptation and mitigation programs.
The first such Water, Energy, & Emissions Efficiency program to be registered with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)-Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Camino Sabio Azul (Cambio Azul) aims to tackle the issue of water conservation and efficiency by training and employing women plumbers to install free, efficient shower heads and faucet regulators in low-income housing, along with service monitoring and reporting for up to 10 years.
In addition to reducing water and energy use and water and power bills, the program is also expected to provide much-needed and sought-after employment to an underrepresented sector of the population. It should also go a long way toward “fostering a long-term cultural shift toward water and energy conservation,” according to Houston-based Investment Technology Resources (ITR)-Equinox Management Solutions, which is coordinating and managing the program through its Camino Sabio Azul S. de R.L. de C.V., a Mexican limited liability company.
Water conservation & efficiency in Mexico: Raising awareness, removing perverse subsidies
Water scarcity is a critical issue across Mexico, with most of the country’s watersheds at high stress levels. That’s particularly the case in the sprawling megapolis of Mexico City, which is experiencing a systemic water crisis despite massive water infrastructure investments, ITR-Cambio Azul notes.
Reducing water usage and improving water efficiency are seen as keys to addressing the problem, but progress has been limited and hampered. With water considered “unlimited public right,” government subsidies and lax payment enforcement amount to perverse incentives that encourage mindless water use and public apathy that has severely limited the potential of water conservation and efficiency programs to gain any real traction. Moreover,
“the impact of hot water use on energy bills is underestimated, and there is low public consideration of the performance and savings of efficient fixtures,” stated ITR-Cambio Azul.
Cambio Azul: Women plumbers on the scene
The first such PoA to be approved for CDM registration by the UNFCCC’s Executive Board, Cambio Azul’s potential scale is significant, project partners note. Six million households, each having at least three devices (2/3 in the Mexico City area), are covered in Cambio Azul’s CDM Program of Activities (PoA), which has been approved for a lengthy 28 years.
Swiss environmental non-profit foundation Myclimate is providing promotion support, development funding, and startup credit purchase and marketing for the Cambio Azul program. The Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund is providing an initial grant and is interested in participating in large scale deployment.
Leaky faucets & perverse subsidies
George Maher, president of Houston, Texas-based ITR-Equinox Management Solutions has been instrumental in getting Cambio Azul off the ground.
ITR estimates that the contracts he has concluded for this “unique carbon offset and sustainability program” will benefit some 5 million low-income Mexican households, as well as overall environmental quality and sustainability, by enabling them save more than 20 percent per year on household water use (some 120 billion liters).
Carrying out the project is also expected to yield substantial benefits in terms of reducing residential energy consumption and carbon emissions given that energy is needed to distribute and pump water to households and Mexico relies predominantly on petroleum, and increasingly natural gas, for electrical power.
The tight linkages between water and energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and environmental and social degradation are highlighted in an Agenda Azul del Cambio Climatico (Blue Agenda for Climate Change) slideshare.
Through the CDM, Cambio Azul has been able to monetize anticipated carbon emissions reductions (CERs), reductions that are expected to translate into millions of tons of carbon emissions reduction credit revenues per year.
Each water-saving device – efficient shower heads and faucets – can create ten years’ worth of CDM CERs. The installation of efficient shower heads and faucets is expected to yield 1 ton of carbon dioxide emissions reduction per household per year, leading project participants to believe Cambio Azul “has excellent prospects for being self-sustaining.”