Issue of September, 06, 2004
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Industry is one of the leading culprits of greenhouse gas emission
Credit: Photo Stock
Report
Small Companies Far from Meeting 'Green' Standards
By Diego Cevallos

Pressure is rising in Mexico for small industries to be incorporated into a new initiative for measuring and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

MEXICO CITY, (Tierramérica).- Slowly, the biggest companies of Latin America are adopting environmental regulations to measure and reduce emissions of what are known as greenhouse gases, which trap the Sun's heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

But for small and medium businesses, which are the majority, the issue is barely on the horizon.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) applauded the Mexican government and business sector for adopting in August a voluntary program to measure and reduce emissions of gases like carbon dioxide that contribute to global climate change.

Mexico, with a population of 110 million, is responsible for an estimated 1.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Project already has the participation of 150 companies from around the globe. Financed by international agencies, the plan offers companies of all types -- including small and medium sized firms -- training and instruments to measures their emissions, means for identifying ways to reduce them, and advice on how to attract investment in clean technology.

Mexico is the first developing country to join the project. This Latin American nation has some 48,000 companies, and 75 percent fail to comply with environmental regulations, admit government authorities.

Jonathan Lash, president of the non-governmental World Resources Institute (WRI), which along with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development funds the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, said that by joining the effort Mexico has put itself in an environmental leadership position.

Lash underscored that a developing country has now adopted clear commitments, while the United States, the world's leading greenhouse gas producer, refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, which sets targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Greenhouse Gas Protocol ''is a good initiative, but it is just the beginning, and we can't rest on our laurels,'' said Diego Masera, UNEP coordinator for Industry, Technology and Trade for Latin America and the Caribbean.

''I hope especially that all the small and medium companies take advantage of it,'' because they are the ones outside the environmental regulations, Masera told Tierramérica. He also hopes the program will be replicated in other countries of the region.

Eighty percent of Latin American and Caribbean companies are considered small or medium sized, and their compliance with environmental protection standards is still more a dream than a reality.

And many of these firms are barely surviving, due to the lack of credits and access to technology, so environmental matters are not a priority for them, according to Masera.

Of the certificates presented annually by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) that validate productive processes that are environmentally appropriate and sustainable, less then three percent go to companies in Latin America and the Caribbean, and of those few, the vast majority go to firms in Argentina and Brazil.

Most of the companies that have taken on environmental commitments and have submitted to outside controls are the region's biggest and most powerful.

''In the Mexican business world, as in the rest of Latin America, the application of environmental standards is not a priority,'' Eduardo Prieto, president of Mexico's Business Council for Sustainable Development, told Tierramérica.

In his opinion, most executives continue to believe that environmental regulations represent excessive expenses for their businesses, ''even though it has been proven that eco-efficiency leads to a reduction of costs,'' a notion that has begun to take root in some of the bigger corporations.

The expert commented that small and medium companies are ''small predators of the environment'' and that if taken as a group the damage they cause is greater than that of the bigger corporations.

As for the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, Prieto maintains that it is an effort to ''reverse the trends we are seeing in emissions'' worldwide, but recognizes that its impact would be relatively small, since Mexico and the rest of Latin America contribute little to the greenhouse gas problem.

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identifies carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide as the main gases contributing to the greenhouse effect, at levels of 60, 20 and six percent, respectively.

To confront this problem, the international community drew up the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, which would enter into force if the United States would ratify it.

The Latin American and Caribbean region, where 24 countries have ratified the Protocol, is responsible for 11 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Brazil and Mexico are among the 20 highest producers of this pollutant.

These gases do exist naturally in the Earth's atmosphere, and the retention of the Sun's heat is beneficial to a certain degree, but human activities, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels, has released such great quantities of the gases that they are altering the global climate.

In Masera's opinion, it is important that Mexican business executives, with the support of the government, set their sights on reducing emissions, as the country is the regional leader in releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Mexico's net emissions of this gas are estimated to be 444.5 million metric tons, 67 percent produced by combustion of fossil fuels, making the country a leading polluter, said UNEP in its study Geo Latin America and the Caribbean 2003.

* Diego Cevallos is an IPS correspondent.

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