Looking for Climate Change Leadership? Try Mexico City

The largest city in the Western Hemisphere and third-biggest metropolitan area in the world is going to great lengths to clear its air and reduce its contribution to climate change. A few years ago the office of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard first laid out a citywide “Plan Verde,” intended to gradually convert the massive metropolis into an environmental leader. Many clean air and climate-related initiatives are now well underway, including sophisticated subway and bus systems that continue to expand, a public bike-sharing program, and urban composting initiatives. By the end of next year, the city government hopes to close a major landfill and use methane gas from decaying garbage to produce electricity.

Mexico City’s climate change initiatives have received special attention lately because in the next couple weeks the city will be hosting the Third World Congress of United Cities and Local Governments, followed closely by the World Mayors Summit on Climate Change. Observers predict Mayor Ebrard will try to convince other local government leaders to follow his example and take on a more proactive role fighting climate change. With national policymakers in the United States and some other big economies failing to deliver bold climate solutions, and with no international climate change treaty on the horizon, city efforts to curb carbon emissions are now more important than ever.

The City government of Mexico City says climate change is one of its top five priorities, and has taken impressive strides to combat pollution and carbon emissions. But no one expects clearing the air in this vast metropolis will be easy. For reasons that are not entirely the city’s fault, Mexico City has become known as one of the most polluted places in the America’s. Similar to some parts of California, the geography of the local area is such that smog and other pollutants tend to stay trapped around the city.

To this add the fact that Mexico City’s water aquifers are quickly becoming depleted, and the imperative for dealing with environmental problems becomes clear. While neither smog pollution nor local water shortages are directly related to climate change, Mexico City’s environmental ethic seems to have been easily extended to encompass a concern for the climate as well. In recent years countering climate change has become the overarching theme of Plan Verde programs, and the city says it is devoting one billion US dollars per year to implement a climate action plan.

Many people in the United States are already familiar with climate change-related initiatives in US cities like New York, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. But probably far fewer realize cities in the developing world are also taking the lead on this issue. At this month’s two gatherings for local government officials, delegates will have the chance to learn from Mexico City’s example and make commitments of their own to develop low-carbon economies. Local leaders should seize this opportunity as a chance to protect their own residents from runaway climate change and other environmental problems.

Photo credit: SanGatiche