The COP16 climate meetings kicked off last night with a high-profile event that featured President Felipe Calderon. The event, called Business Action for Climate 2010, featured moderator Charlie Rose and several CEOs from the world’s largest companies. But the first speaker, Calderon, stole most of the headlines with a speech that outlined what the president thought could be accomplished at COP16. He talked as much about concrete objectives as abstract concepts like our mindset when it comes to climate change. Here are five things I took away from the president’s remarks.
1. We aren't 'choosing' one thing over another.
Calderon pointed out that, in recent years, climate progress has been hampered by thoughts about having to make one choice or another. “Either we fight poverty or we fight climate change. Either we try to get economic growth or we try and save the environment,” Calderon began and then answered his own rhetorical question. “It is clear to everyone that they will pick growth and they will pick fighting poverty. My point is, my friends, is that this is a false dilemma, it is possible to have economic growth and it is possible to fight climate change. It is possible to fight poverty and it is possible to mitigate carbon emissions.”
2. Calderon has no doubts about the realities of climate change.
The president used real-life situations, mostly recent natural disasters, to back up his belief that climate change is real and that we have to deal with it. “This year, more than 60 Mexicans died due to natural disasters.” But he didn’t just focus on the struggles of his own nation; he mentioned several situations around the world. “This year we have seen tremendous forest fires in Russia, we have seen droughts in Africa, floods here in Mexico and hurricanes that we have never seen before.”
3. He acknowledged the difficult political situation the U.S. faces when it comes to climate change.
Calderon seemed sympathetic to the economic situation of his neighbors to the north. “We know that the American people, the citizens and the congressmen, are facing very different challenges with their economic situations and it looks difficult for anyone to ask for any type of sacrifice in order to preserve nature.” But as he continued he seemed to suggest that there are solutions to climate change that don’t mean making sacrifices. “If we can find out a solution to our environmental goals, we can move ahead. If we get to the point where no one makes a sacrifice but everyone works on a solution, then we can move ahead.” From here Calderon pivoted to the practical, saying that if we focus on action instead of sacrifice, progress can be made. “We need to analyze every situation where we can provide a clear benefit individuals while improving the environment and at the same time avoid sacrifices coming from countries or people."
4. Calderon says technology is key to the climate change challenge.
The president talked about how a simple program for replacing light bulbs can put a dent in the emissions challenge. “We are going to start a program where we substitute all of the lamps for 25 million houses. With that we will save money for the people and save subsides for the people.” He then went on a bit of a tangent about the need to one day eliminate government money that goes to the fossil fuel sector. “Of course, I realize we need to eradicate the subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, but in the meantime we can save all that money for the people if we can just save those lamps. It is not a question of the cost of the lamps, it is a question of financing.”
The president didn’t just want to focus on light bulbs though. He used humor to hammer home the importance of energy efficiency with new appliances. “We need to tell grandmother, who loves her 40-year-old refrigerator — and I will not argue that it is a very good one — but we must realize that technology can improve our conditions. If we substitute grandmother's refrigerator, we can save a lot of money, and reduce a lot of emissions, and save a lot of money for the family.” Calderon said an income-based program for replacing outdated appliances is a logical way to go about this.
5. Calderon used sports' analogies to set expectations.
Nothing wins over a crowed like some good sports' analogies, and the charismatic Calderon didn't disappoint. “It is going to be a very good meeting. In the end, I hope that we can reach agreements on adaptation, transparency, reporting mechanisms, financing and others, and it will be a very good step towards our goal to mitigate and face climate change.” Now for the analogy: “We may not get a touchdown, but we will get a good first down with a very long pass.”