Fighting Climate Change Is Profitable: Mexico’s Calderon

Curbing climate change is profitable and nations must offer business incentives for low-carbon growth to cut fossil-fuel reliance, according to former president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon.

Countries must act jointly and in a “comprehensive” way, targeting the energy industry, cities, agriculture and forests as the main areas where runaway greenhouse gas emissions can be reined in, Calderon said in an interview in London. The former leader is now chairman of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, a panel set up by seven nations including the U.K. to advise on the best ways to tackle global warming.

“It’s completely possible to both get economic growth and to tackle climate change,” said Calderon, a former chairman of state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos. “The traditional trade-off that a lot of people talk about between growth and responsibility to the environment is a false dilemma.”

Calderon’s commission is drawing up a list of 10 recommendations that it will present to governments before a climate summit of world leaders convened by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for Sept. 23. The panel is discussing proposals including ending fossil fuel subsidies, spurring extra research into renewable energy and storage technologies, and improving city planning, he said.

“Probably close to 40 percent of the effort that needs to be made can be reached picking low hanging fruits, most of them related to energy efficiency measures,” Calderon said. Simple measures such as replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs can cut 80 percent off the power use of a light, he said.

Building Cities

Policy makers need to devise a new “green revolution” in agriculture that allows for 70 percent more food production by 2050 without expanding cultivated land into presently forested areas, Calderon said. They also need to plan for an extra 1.5 billion people living in cities by 2030, he said.

“It implies building more than 1,000 cities, each with more than a million people,” Calderon said. “We need to choose right now the model of those cities. They could be unplanned, extended and with very low density more oriented toward the use of vehicles. Or we design cities with the right density more oriented toward public transport.”

Calderon. who was Mexico’s president for six years through 2012, oversaw a UN climate-change meeting in Cancun in 2010 and pushed through the country’s first law on the issue in 2012.

With the cost of renewables coming down and the increasing risk of fossil-fuel resources such as coal mines becoming “stranded” and uneconomic, businesses are already taking action, according to the former president.

‘Wait-and-See’

He cited the example of Unilever NV, whose chief executive officer, Paul Polman, sits on the commission and has vowed to only get palm oil from plantations that are certified as not having resulted in deforestation. It’s up to governments to devise the right incentives to spur more such actions, he said.

“We need to defeat the wait-and-see strategy,” Calderon said. “If in the next year we are able to demonstrate that governments are serious about this, then the private sector is going to jump into the new track because that’s rational behavior.

‘‘We’re not talking about apocalyptic prophesies related to huge sacrifices,” he said. “We are talking about an economy able to generate growth, jobs and profits for companies.”

Britain, Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, South Korea, Norway and Sweden are sponsoring Calderon’s commission, whose members include Dan Doctoroff, president and chief executive officer of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Morales in London at amorales2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net Tony Barrett, Alex Devine

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