|While the U.S. media ceaselessly updates the American public on the gory results of the Mexican drug war, they rarely take time to report on a subject that could allow Mexico to become a model for developing countries worldwide: climate-change mitigation. Mexican President Felipe CalderÃ³n has referred to global warming as â€œone of the biggest threats to humanity,â€ while his environment minister, Juan Rafael Elvira, has declared that Mexico is committing itself to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 million metric tons a year between now and 2012, and by 50 percent below 2002 levels by 2050. Thus far, they have put real action behind their words. As Mexico continues to implement domestic-emission reductions programs, including its low-carbon bus rapid transit (BRT) and fluorescent-for-incandescent light bulb swap programs, other nations might take notice and follow suit.
Passengers use cards similar to subway passes to enter the enclosed bus waiting area, which eliminates the time ordinarily spent waiting to pay on board. MetrobÃºs has exclusive usage of the left-hand lanes along its route, allowing the BRT to be a much faster mode of transportation than driving. In comparison to subways, BRTs are extremely economical: subways cost over 30 times as much per mile to construct than a BRT system, and three times as much to maintain. For a relatively poor country like Mexico, a subway system would be too expensive to implement even with foreign funds. BRTs are therefore the most financially feasible way of pulling carbon-emitting drivers out of their cars and onto buses. In the past four years, MetrobÃºs has been responsible for a six percent shift from private vehicles to public transportation. The 450,000 passengers who ride the BRT in Mexico City each day prevent an estimated 80,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere each year, while increasing mobility along Insurgentsâ€™ Avenue, the capitalâ€™s main street, by 50 percent and reducing accidents by 30 percent.
The convenience of MetrobÃºs has contributed to its subsequent expansion since its 2005 inauguration. Initially, it only ran North-South through the city, covering 20 kilometers of land, and carried 230,000 passengers. However, after its first year, MetrobÃºs became popular enough for Marcelo Ebrard to win Mexico Cityâ€™s mayoral election, beating the incumbent, after campaigning on a platform of expanding MetrobÃºsâ€™ operations from one to ten lines. In December 2008, he initiated the second BRT corridor within Mexico City, â€œEje 4 Xola,â€ which serves Mexico Cityâ€™s eastern district of Iztapalapa. With this new addition, MetrobÃºs now runs over 50 kilometers in length, and it is expected to continue to expand beyond its current two lines.
Once MacrobÃºsâ€™ registration process with the UN is complete, Guadalajara believes that it will receive approximately US$3.6 million through CERs. The government has promised that the money earned from the BRT will go towards research and monitoring equipment to make the bus system more environmentally-friendly. MacrobÃºs is currently 16 kilometers in length and serves 130,000 passengers, but two more corridors will expand the BRT to 81 kilometers by 2012. Guadalajaran officials are hoping that MacrobÃºs will inspire other BRTs within Latin America when the city hosts the Pan-American Games in 2011, thus encouraging climate change mitigation throughout the region.
Opposition to MacrobÃºs
Some are worried that the MacrobÃºs will further congest Guadalajaraâ€™s already busy roads. However, if implemented successfully, the BRT should actually pull drivers off the roads and decrease traffic. Others are more concerned with the costs of the new bus: Mexicoâ€™s Federation of University Students is lodging a legal complaint against MacrobÃºs for forcing students to pay a fee to receive a discount on their bus rides, which they claim is unconstitutional.
Protests over these and other issues are impeding the construction of the last two lines. The government should consider the interests and demands of its residents, and acquiesce to protestersâ€™ simpler requests (like more accessible discounted rates for students), while staying committed to carrying through with the rest of the MacrobÃºs project.
Innovations in transportation systems could make a huge difference to the environment. Transport currently accounts for 18 percent of Mexicoâ€™s greenhouse gas emissions, which increased 27 percent between 1990 and 2005. Given that three quarters of Mexicoâ€™s population lives in urban areas, energy-saving BRTs could be a major force in reducing the countryâ€™s carbon footprint. The government has already promised to phase out all of its buses that are over 10 years old by 2012, which would be considered a definite step in the right direction.
Lighting up Mexico
Although this program is voluntary, Mexicans have a definite incentive to make the switch: CFLs require up to 80 percent less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent light bulbs. In the long term, this will save residents huge amounts of money, as well as reduce wasteful energy usage. Household lighting constitutes 10 percent of all electricity generated in Mexico, therefore making it more efficient has the potential to eradicate enormous amounts of excess energy use. Due to increasing demand, Mexican authorities now estimates that they will have to spend US$800,000 per megawatt capacity on new electricity generation infrastructure over the next decade, so energy efficiency is pivotal.
The CFL project will be beneficial to everyone involved: less greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere, Mexican households will save money on their electricity bills, the government will save money on electricity subsidies for low-income households, and there will be less overall pressure on energy infrastructure. The government now subsidizes 54 percent of the electricity bill for poorer households, so the reduction of electricity usage would save the country a significant portion of the budget. The UN estimates that switching one million light bulbs from incandescent to fluorescent would save Mexico US$12.2 billion a year, with US$5.6 million going to consumers and US$6.6 million to the government. Additionally, the lower pressure on energy infrastructure during peak load timesâ€”when electricity usage is at a maximumâ€”would allow for savings of approximately US$19.5 million.
The project is also designed to take the critical next step of training locals on energy efficiency so they can assist in the implementation of the project. This will provide jobs for Mexicans and create a new contingent of highly trained professionals within the country, since Cool NRG will be instructing locals in development, implementation, and management in both energy efficiency and the CDM. Program managers will also be responsible for educating the general public about the advantages of energy efficiency, both financial and environmental, so that consumers can understand that conserving energy will lower their expenses while mitigating the effects of climate change.
Here Comes the Sun
Renewable energy is becoming even more essential for Mexico as its oil output has been on the decline. Encouraged by successes in the wind and solar sectors, President CalderÃ³n has said that Mexico aims to have renewable energy represent a quarter of its total energy by 2012.
Sensitive to Climate Change
This is becoming even more important with Decemberâ€™s fast-approaching global climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, which could potentially serve as Kyotoâ€™s successor. Although major economies have been holding climate conferences periodically throughout 2009, the participants have not been able to reach a compromise on sharing the emission reductions burden proportionately between rich and poor countries. In early July, the Major Economies Forum, a group of 17 countries that produces 80 percent of the worldâ€™s emissions, once again exposed the disparities between developed and developing nations. China and India refused to agree to emission targets, since industrialized countries were able to use dirty fossil fuels indiscriminately while they were developing, and they want the same freedom to grow inexpensively and efficiently. CalderÃ³n disagrees with both Indiaâ€™s and Chinaâ€™s stance. â€œTalking as a developing nation is difficult for me because fellow leaders in developing nations say that industrialized nations provoked the problem and they have enough money to fix it,â€ he said. â€œWe need to change that point of view.â€
To support poor countries that want to develop cleanly, Mexico has suggested a global â€œGreen Fundâ€ to finance environmentally-friendly projects. The G8 backed this idea at its July meeting, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown suggested that the developed world contribute US$100 billion a year in funds to encourage clean development. Some of the capital could come from tariffs on the airline and shipping industries, which alone could produce US$30 billion a year. This fund could help emission targets overcome one of their biggest obstacles by allowing clean development to be achieved inexpensively. Poor nations would no longer have any economic incentives to continue industrializing with dirty fuels, since the Green Fund would finance emissions-cutting projects for them.
As climate change becomes a more severe issue, Mexicoâ€™s attention to emissions reductions is serving as a model for both industrialized and developing nations across the globe. It still remains to be seen if Mexico will actually reach the targets to which it has pledged and whether or not its projects will be successful in the coming years, but its conscious effort to eradicate climate change is worth emulation. Some critics claim that Mexicoâ€™s actions are mainly for show, and point to a failed reforestation scheme, in which at least 40 percent of the replanted trees have ended up dying, to demonstrate that Mexico has previously fallen short of its stated goals. This type of criticism is counterproductive. As CalderÃ³n has observed, â€œThe finger-pointing has gone on for more than a decade without humanity taking a single step forward in the fight against climate change.â€ It is time for governments across the globe to stop pointing fingers and start working on climate change in their own countries. Perhaps Mexico could serve as their example?
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Lily Fesler