By Amy Glover *
In an era of post truth, it is important to remind ourselves that climate change is not a matter of opinion, nor a matter of ideology. It is very simply, a matter of science. This fact should serve as solace given that science provides us with evidence-based analysis that can guide our actions moving forward. As the recently released IPCC data clearly shows, taking concrete steps to reduce both our carbon and methane footprints is a matter of global urgency.
For this reason, the lack of a clearly articulated plan for climate adjustment and abatement in Mexico is concerning. The need to rapidly adjust to new climate conditions and move toward greater reliance on cleaner energy sources is evident. It is also important from an economic development point of view. A concern for sustainability and the environment will go hand in hand with the business and economic trends of the future and we need to prepare Mexicans to succeed under changing circumstances.
Mexico is a nation privileged with two large coastlines and plans to assist communities that rely on tourism and fisheries for their livelihoods need to be put in place now. Rising sea levels and changing ecosystems will continue to have a massively disruptive impact on coastal communities, requiring close coordination between the federal and state governments to help them find new ways to live sustainably.
The IPCC report emphasized the importance of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, something that to date has been less emphasized than carbon emissions. Like carbon, methane is a greenhouse gas, but it is 80 times more powerful in its warming effect over the first 20 years after release. Reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is our best hope to slow the rate of climate change globally and could reduce the rate of warming by as much as 30%.
Further, methane emissions contribute to air pollution and negatively affects the health of communities living close to onshore processing plants, particularly in Gulf states like Veracruz, Campeche and Tabasco. A recently released international study using satellite data shows that methane emissions in Mexico are far greater than officially reported, particularly at plants like Nuevo Pemex. Approximately 4.7% of the gas produced in the country is leaked into the atmosphere, an extremely high emission rate in global comparative terms (the US emission rate is 2.3%).
Methane is the main ingredient of natural gas, so when we allow emissions to run rampant because of poor equipment maintenance or excessive flaring, we are also wasting a precious energy resource. Cost-effective technologies exist that can capture and re-use this energy. For multiple reasons – public health, energy efficiency, and climate abatement – taking steps to reduce methane emissions as soon as possible is a no-brainer.
Happily, Mexico already has world-class methane regulations in place; they just need to be swiftly enforced. There are both technical and financial resources at our disposable that can help ensure that Mexico lives up to its Paris Agreement commitments and achieves the goal of reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% by 2025, something that all three North American nations committed to in 2016. In fact, in the context of the Leader’s Summit on Climate Change in late April, Minister of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, tweeted that Mexico agrees with President Joe Biden and his Envoy for Climate, John Kerry, that reducing methane gas emissions should be a clear regional priority.
Beyond methane, renewable energy needs to be embraced and not shunned as a part of Mexico’s energy strategy. The country has comparative advantages for the development of both solar and wind energy that should be exploited. By transitioning to renewables and reducing the carbon footprint of our energy sources, Mexico can create jobs in thriving industries of the future, instead of futilely protecting those of the past.
The goals of a prosperous economy, a healthy population, a successful energy industry and ambitious climate change abatement are not at odds with each other but are intimately entwined. Climate change is not some other country’s problem but one that will deeply affect the lives of the average Mexican, particularly our most vulnerable communities. Confronting the problem before it gets worse is in the best interest of Mexico and the planet.