California and Mexico to Forge Shared Solutions on Climate Change and the Economy

This blog was co-written by Amanda Maxwell and Ann Notthoff

NRDC has been working for years in both California and Mexico to combat climate change and protect natural resources.  Although each has its own political challenges and opportunities, it’s clear that environmental problems like carbon  pollution, fossil fuel development, aging infrastructure, pressures on our oceans from overfishing, and threats to valuable natural resource areas  pay no heed to governmental  borders. The problems of one state spill easily into the other, so our shared problems require shared solutions.

That’s why I’m looking forward to being a part of the trade mission that Governor Brown is leading to Mexico next week, when about 90 delegates from the state’s private and public sector will meet with our counterparts and allies across the border to discuss common key issues we face: climate change, environment protection and the economy. This trip is a unique opportunity for leaders on both sides of our common border to share solutions to some of the most pressing environmental and public health issues we face.

Here is a quick summary of some of the topics that we will be discussing.

Climate Change

Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto have made it clear that fighting climate change is a common priority for both countries. As an international climate leader, California has set the pace on a full suite of policies to cut carbon pollution, partnering with China, Peru, Israel, Quebec and Pacific Coast states to share information and spread best practices. Governor Brown will build on this already strong record on Monday, July 28th by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), to boost efforts to tackle this global problem together. This agreement commits both parties to work together to measure, monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is an area where both governments can learn a lot from each other and reinforce their strong work. Mexico has been a leader in the Americas on climate change legislation, having passed the General Climate Change Law in 2012. This law set two emissions reductions goals: 1) to reduce emissions 30 percent by 2020 and 2) to reduce emissions 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2000 levels. The most recent national plan for how to meet those goals, the Special Climate Change Program (PECC), has been criticized, however, by Mexican environmental groups for not being ambitious enough. Further north, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, is on track, reducing pollution while helping keep the economy strong. The MOU can strengthen their joint commitment to tackling climate change.


Transportation is intricately linked to climate change, as the transportation sector is a major source of climate change emissions. At the “Three Amigos” Summit in February, Presidents Obama, Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Harper highlighted the importance of mitigating climate change together by cleaning up the transportation sector. California and SEMARNAT’s MOU will also chart a collective path forward for developing clean fuels and vehicles and for improving vehicle efficiency.

With nearly 40% of the State’s carbon pollution coming from cars and light trucks, California was the first government in the world to control climate change emissions from vehicles in 2002. President Obama exercised national leadership by setting similarly aggressive clean car standards in 2010 and 2012.  Starting January 2015, fuels will be covered by California’s economy-wide cap and trade program which, working in tandem with the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard, will further reduce carbon pollution in the Golden State. 

Although the Mexican government has been talking about the need to adopt cleaner fuel and vehicle standards for years, there has been little concrete action so far. Last year, SEMARNAT adopted a light duty vehicle efficiency standard, called NOM 163, but has yet to produce emissions standards for light or heavy duty vehicles or fuel quality standards. We hope the next few days can instigate the Mexican government to work with California and others to turn these pledges into action.

Renewable Energy Planning and Infrastructure

With its Renewable Portfolio Standard in place, California is on target to produce 33% of its electricity from clean energy by 2020.  And it can do more.  In the past six years, California has made great strides in planning for renewable energy – both building new plants and planning for the transmission infrastructure that will be needed for our clean energy future in 2020 and beyond. Making the most of the existing electricity grid, prioritizing energy efficiency and building any new infrastructure that is needed in places with the least environmental conflicts are lessons that can extend across the border into Mexico to help build a responsible, sustainable energy future for both countries.

Marine Protection

As the Pacific coastline runs seamlessly from California to Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, the pollution and degradation of our oceans, exacerbated by climate change, is another critical issue that should be addressed during this trade mission. Here, too, California and Mexico have a lot to learn from each other. In December 2012, California completed a comprehensive process and took a great step forward by establishing a string of underwater parks, or marine protected areas, that cover about 16 percent of the state waters. Fish populations and marine health are already rebounding.

The Baja Peninsula’s coast is home to a remarkable array of marine life, and it, too, has a number of established marine protected areas, both along the Pacific Coast and in the Sea of Cortez. Yet these parks are still put at risk by proposed developments and overfishing, as we have seen repeatedly in Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. Cabo Pulmo contains the only living hard coral reef in North America. Scientists at California’s Scripps Institute of Oceanography have called it the “most robust marine preserve in the world.” Unfortunately, the promise of economic development has three times now led to the park being seriously threatened by large tourism resorts. Fortunately, local communities and organizations have succeeded in fighting back the proposals so far.

The Path Forward

There are a host of important common climate, energy and environmental issues that we will be discussing next week with leaders from both California and Mexico. We have much to learn from each other and new solutions to create together. Mexico and California share culture, language and much more.  Now, we are poised to share solutions to protect our air, climate, and oceans.