There is a favorite saying in Mexico used when referring to one’s aging and, ahem, no longer properly functioning husband — “cambia tu viejo.”

It was this tongue in cheek motto that Mexican President Calderon appropriated for his plan to finally rid Mexico’s electricity grid of a heavy burden — millions of aging and highly inefficient appliances, in particular the energy-sucking refrigerators so favored by Mexico’s famously thrifty grandma contingent.

Calderon’s sense of humor paid off, helping to launch one of Mexico’s first and most successful energy-efficiency programs which to date has replaced more than 850,000 appliances and saved those old ladies tens of millions of pesos (along with tons of mitigated CO2).

It was one example the Mexican president used to describe what he feels is a paradigm shift in the way countries attack the climate problem — away from what he calls “the false dilemma” of economic growth vs. climate mitigation and poverty alleviation (i.e. developed vs. developing nations) — towards a model that looks for win-win solutions.

An inspiring example he gave is the work in Mexico to partner with indigenous people to put an end to deforestation and land degradation (which globally accounts for more than 20 percent of all CO2 emissions) while directly addressing poverty in those areas most affected by climate change.

Through a pilot program in Chiapas, the Mexican government pays indigenous forest communities for the environmental services their intact forests provide. The results are a perfect case study in win-winning. Where only five years ago the region was losing 350,000 hectares of forest per year, that rate has dropped to 150,000 and the goal of zero deforestation is on the horizon.

Calderon also made it clear that though the U.N. climate treaty process is vitally important, we can no longer wait on it. “It is nearly impossible to get even two countries to sign a treaty, and here we have 200.” The process will take time, a lot of time, and it must continue but not in the absence of progress where progress can be immediately made.

Calderon said he thought there would indeed be real progress in Cancun. Not a “touchdown” but maybe a first-down — especially in the areas of deforestation, climate finance, technology transfer, and possibly a breakthrough in carbon accounting — and his hope is that every county and every city will stop the waiting game and the blaming game. The stakes are too high.

Mexico has seen the direct and dramatic impacts of climate change. In 2010, rainfall in the Tabasco region of Mexico broke historic records, not by an inch or two but by a factor of two times or more, resulting in the deaths of 60 people. In nearby Guatemala, the death toll was 1,000.

These kinds of impacts have heightened public urgency for climate action in Mexico. When you are up against a wall, you have to get creative. And Calderon hopes Mexico will lead other counties by example — both in creative solutions for reducing carbon emissions and in a policy stance that drops the developed vs. developing nation standoff and gets on with the work at hand.

Also on MNN: Keep up with coverage of the Cancun climate talks here

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