Juan José Guerra Abud
Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT)
View from the Top

Guaranteeing the Future of Sustainable Economic Growth

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 14:46

Q: One of the big steps taken in the Energy Reform is that externalities are going to be taken into account as part of the cost of electricity. How will the monetary value of externalities be measured?

A: Along with SENER, we are participating in this calculation as is established by the law. The Ministry of Health will have to participate as well in the future. It is not an easy or simple model but we have many Mexican scientists and institutions, such as the Mario Molina Center, that are working on the calculations of externalities. We will reach a proposal for the measurement without a doubt. For example, an innovative proposal put forward in Mexico is the carbon tax for fossil fuels, based on their carbon emissions.

Q: Will the Energy Reform bring SEMARNAT more influence over the energy sector?

A: Everyone in the government is conscious about the importance of taking care of the environment. Taking the right measures to protect the environment, particularly in the context of climate change, is a direct order from President Peña Nieto. He recently stated that the natural disasters that struck Mexico in 2013 were linked to climate change. It is only natural for SEMARNAT to play a central role in this process.

Q: Reasons to invest in renewable energy and fighting climate change range from energy security to general social well-being and economic growth. Which one is the most important for you?

A: All of them are important. The Energy Reform means that Mexico will be able to exploit its own natural gas resources. Obviously, we need to make the most out of our resources while using the best international environmental practices. There should be no doubt that the measures we are going to implement will use the best international practices. Nowadays, the energy sector is essential to foster economic growth, and the sustainable economic growth is a very important priority for us. It is not a matter of choosing between economic growth and sustainability, both have to go together to promote the well-being of Mexicans. It is critical that the majority of poor Mexicans improve their quality of life, which will happen once we manage to achieve sustainable use of our vast natural resources.

Q: What is going to be your approach in order to ensure that shale gas in Mexico can be developed in a responsible way?

A: There is no human activity that does not have an effect on the environment. SEMARNAT’s responsibility is to minimize the environmental impact of human activities. If we weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of shale gas, the benefits will win out. The effects of drilling a well to exploit shale gas can have a negative impact, but the benefits of natural gas, such as drastically reducing greenhouse emissions of other less efficient fuels, compensate for those negative effects by far.

Q: In countries such as Russia or Brazil, environmental regulations have been used to wield influence over energy companies operating in the country. What is going to be done to make sure that this does not happen in Mexico?

A: The rule of law must prevail. The environmental legal framework - norms, laws, and regulations - has to be applied equally to every company, private or public. Nobody should have reasons to fear that, due to political issues, we would use environmental issues to attack a particular company. This will not happen in Mexico.

Q: What are your main priorities for the coming five years? How are you going to measure your performance relative to the goals you have set for SEMARNAT?

A: Climate change is a global priority and it goes beyond any local goal. We do not have a bigger challenge than controlling climate change. From a local point of view, it is critical to implement reforestation programs. We need to recover the forests we have lost. We have a commercial deficit of US$6 billion in forestry products, but this issue goes beyond economic reasons because of the environmental benefits this will bring. Another priority is municipal solid waste management as we can create added value from this waste. We are working on this project together with state and municipal governments as waste management is a responsibility of municipalities in Mexico. Obviously, the implementation of any programs to tackle solid waste has to be done while respecting biodiversity and guaranteeing sustainable economic development. We have to facilitate economic growth but we cannot allow this growth to come at the expense of the environment.