Edgar Villaseñor
Regional Secretary for Mexico, Central America, & the Carribbean

Municipalities in the Fight Against Climate Change

Wed, 02/24/2016 - 09:39

Edgar Villaseñor, Regional Secretary for Mexico, Central America, & the Carribbean at ICLEI expects the time to implement renewable projects in municipalities to decrease as a result of the Energy Reform. Furthermore, he also anticipates larger funds destined for local governments for these developments. If these conditions are met, ICLEI could fully unleash its potential to help develop renewable projects at the local level. ICLEI is established in many cities across the world where it works on implementing activities, training programs, and preparing relevant information to assist cities in renewable projects. In Mexico, it has not been easy to replicate this success because of cumbersome procedures.

In Mexico, municipalities do not collect as much tax revenue as they need, leaving them dependent on money from the federal government. The main barriers hindering the implementation of renewable practices are a lack of funds, time, unfamiliarity with the rules, and the short political terms for municipal authorities. “This is a big problem when trying to develop renewable projects and this will become more apparent in the next years if the distribution of funds does not change,” says Villaseñor. “Fortunately, new opportunities have risen thanks to the interest of private companies wishing to invest in local renewable projects.” Now with the Energy Reform, solar and wind projects represent promising opportunities. ICLEI is in direct contact with mayors and public officials, and trains them in different aspects of sustainability. “We have to be very clear that sustainable development does not only take place in the economic and environmental spheres, but also in the social sphere,” details Villaseñor. For this reason, ICLEI’s advises municipalities to look for different options rather than focusing on just one. “It is likely the project with the best economic proposal will be chosen, although it may not be the best one in terms of sustainability. We must push for projects that include social and environmental issues rather than exclusively involving economic gains.”

A second opportunity the Energy Reform presents is energy efficiency at a municipal level. At the moment, ICLEI has a lot of projects in municipal public street lighting and electricity, like the PEPS Mexico Program that promotes public procurement in the public sector. A problem Villaseñor identifies is that SEMARNAT distributes funds but it does not ask for specific project plans. In order to address the problem of inefficient allocation of funds, Villaseñor believes the government should ask for strong project proposals prior to releasing the money for funding.

Over the last few years, one of the most important projects ICLEI has carried out is the Municipal Climate Action Plans (PACMUN), in collaboration with the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) and funded by the British Embassy in Mexico. In the PACMUN strategy, local governments and different actors from civil society carry out climate change action plans. In turn, ICLEI offers training and technical assistance. “At the moment, our criteria are focused on establishing a strong public policy, for which we review information alongside the INECC using IPCC protocols.” Nowadays, PACMUN is benefiting more than 300 municipalities and more than 25,000 people are involved in the project. “The climate change strategy was only focused at the state level, but local authorities did not have the tools to enable resilience in preparing projects, until ICLEI proposed PACMUN to the British Embassy,” details Villaseñor. This project, alongside Mexico’s General Climate Change Law, encouraged municipalities to create public policies in order to receive climate change funds.

A first step for municipalities is to identify how vulnerable they are to climate change at the social and economic levels, and secondly, a greenhouse gases inventory must be carried out. Villaseñor explains that local governments often spend a lot of money on infrastructure, but every year the same environmental issues arise and result in great economic losses. If local authorities have a strong strategic plan, they can reduce this loss and improve efficiency. Of the 330 municipalities carrying out climate action plans in Mexico, 61 have a complete public policy and are trying to implement the projects they have included within it.

Villaseñor expects to be working with close to 500 municipalities by 2015. In addition, a lot of private companies want to implement this program, for which they are actively looking for funding and local support. Today, not only government bodies, but civil societies are recognizing the impact of PACMUN at municipal levels. At this point, it is uncertain how many PACMUN projects ICLEI can continue to fund with its own funding. ICLEI will approach different organizations to raise funds before targeting specific municipalities that would benefit the most from renewable energy. “We already have success stories from countries like India and Brazil and that knowledge can easily be implemented here,” asserts Villaseñor.