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

Sustainability Priority for Economic Growth

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 15:43

Q: What are your priorities in ensuring Mexico develops in an environmentally balanced way?

A: One of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s priorities for this administration is sustainable and sustained economic growth. SEMARNAT has to make sure this happens and demonstrate how wrong the perception is that economic growth and sustainability cannot coexist. Mexico has to seek economic growth without harming the environment. Mexico is one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world. This means that even though it only has 1% of the total surface of the planet, it contains 10% of the world’s biodiversity. One of our goals is to make the most out of the country’s biodiversity, while helping Mexicans to improve their quality of life. One of the points we have repeated across many forums and conferences is that it is vital to see how energy projects can help foster sustainable economic growth.

Q: How does environmental protection fit into the strategy of a country that also has to invest in jobs, healthcare, education and poverty reduction?

A: Each country has to learn from others. There is no doubt that countries in northern Europe, North America and Asia can serve as examples but there are areas in which Mexico has acquired a leading position all by itself. An example of this can be found in the policies that Mexico has established to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental ministries from other countries as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have praised Mexico for its efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Mexico is not one of the top greenhouse gas emitters but it has to reduce its emissions before it can demand others do the same. Being environmentally friendly fosters green businesses, which adds value to the companies and to Mexico.

Q: Europe has reduced the scope of its climate change targets, while Mexico is becoming more ambitious. Is Mexico beginning to set an example?

A: Unfortunately, many countries have not understood that climate change is a reality. We experienced it throughout 2013 in Mexico during the hurricane season, and parts of the US that had historical levels of snow, while California was mired in drought. It seems that many countries are waiting to experience their own local tragedies before they act. Mexico is taking action regarding climate change because we believe we need to be an example to other countries and demand they do their part. We are also working on reforestation, a carbon tax and the Energy Reform, among many other areas, that will put us in a favorable position to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Q: What role will SEMARNAT play in helping Mexico reach the goals stated in the General Climate Change Law?

A: The targets for the reduction of emissions are established in the General Climate Change Law and are not the sole responsibility of SEMARNAT. The goals are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2020, and 50% by 2050. On the other hand, we must have 35% of our energy generated from clean sources by 2024. These goals are part of a public policy Mexico has established. Therefore, the Climate Change Inter-Secretariat Committee is composed by 13 federal government agencies and ministries that are working together to guarantee the reduction of emissions.

Q: Are you concerned about the fact that those governing the country today will not be in government in 2024, leaving no way to make them accountable?

A: The basis for these reductions to happen came into being through the Energy Reform. Currently, the country is still burning fuel oil to generate electricity and even though we have ideal conditions to generate renewable energy, the amount generated from these resources is insignificant. However, this subject is on the federal government’s agenda. Recently President Peña Nieto inaugurated Aura Solar I, the first 30MW PV plant in Mexico. I am convinced that we will reach our goals with the current guidelines.

Q: What message do you have for foreign companies about the future direction of the Mexican renewable energy and sustainability industries?

A: Foreign companies have to understand that Mexico is a country with great opportunities and that they are welcome here. However, there is a clear legal framework that has to be complied with. SEMARNAT will guarantee that environmental laws are fully complied with.