A Win-Win Way to Fight Global Warming

3.28.13

Ned Helme’s op-ed for The Energy Daily explains nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) and how they not only benefit the environment, but also boost growing economies and improve communities.


Far too often, policymakers assume that reducing air pollution also means cutting jobs. That doesn’t need to be the case. In places like Colombia and Chile, a movement has taken root that proves that governments can protect the climate and reduce global warming while also helping developing countries grow in a sustainable way.

The win-win proposition that accomplishes this feat is called a NAMA, which is short for Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action. It’s a mouthful to say, but it’s become a trend worth watching in the burgeoning world of climate change policy. In May, a group of developed nations will show up in Copenhagen to consider which NAMAs they want to fund in deserving developing countries around the world. The meeting could be a game changer in environmental policy.

During the three-day Copenhagen conference, government officials will audition the best programs in the developing world. Local officials will offer programs in energy, transportation, solid waste management and housing – all of which reduce greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs and improve communities. Developed nations will focus on which programs they like best with an eye towards sustainable economic growth.

The basic concept is the same every time. The programs reduce pollutants that cause global warming while also promoting growth and improved health and quality of life for citizens. Not only must greenhouse gas emissions fall, but local businesses must tangibly benefit – and so must the people who work for them. Can this possibly be a pro-business environmental policy? Yes, that’s exactly what a NAMA is.

In Colombia, for example, more than 90 percent of solid waste goes to licensed landfills.  Methane gas emissions from these landfills pose a particularly virulent ecological danger. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year atmospheric lifetime. Reduction in methane emissions, especially through diversion of solid waste to productive uses, is an effective way to combat such climate change problems as extreme weather and rising sea levels.

So a NAMA, underwritten by the government of Canada, is being established in Colombia to help reduce the waste going to landfills. Trash isn’t just tossed into big piles anymore, but is used instead to create compost, is recycled and is turned into a fuel for cement kilns that otherwise burn coal. Greenhouse gas emissions will fall and, in the process, the program will offer a better life to the families who pick over garbage for their livelihoods. Trash pickers will be paid more – and more regularly – for their work thanks to the NAMA in Colombia.

Chile has its own version of a NAMA. The Andean nation faces a big expansion in new coal-burning power plants to meet growing demand for electricity. But it has an abundance of wind and, of course, sunshine, that can also be tapped. A NAMA is being put together there that will feature a stabilization fund that will establish a predictable price for electricity produced by renewable sources. With confidence in the price, renewable-energy developers can attract financing from Chilean banks and international sources and move with confidence to non-polluting energy.  Greenhouse gas emission decline as a result and a new renewable energy industry grows, creating jobs along the way.  Chile can avoid high-polluting coal plants and reliance on foreign energy sources.

Catalytic finance from developed nations can spur these kinds of policy innovations and attract extensive private sector investments. That can lead, in turn, to sustainable economic development, which national and local leaders can replicate in many other places.

Colombia has led the developing world in building rapid transit systems to reduce congestion, car use and pollution, for example. Through financial collaboration with developed nations, Colombia can  multiply the environmental, social and quality of life benefits of NAMA investments by using transit stations as the centerpiece of, effectively, an urban renaissance. Hubs – which include low-income apartments, retail stores, employment centers and easy access to bus lines – will make living a lot easier for a growing number of Colombians and also reduce air pollution.

The first financial commitments to support NAMAs in developing countries are underway, but this initial flow needs to become a river of constructive collaboration. The Washington-based Center for Clean Air Policy hopes the flow will grow during its Global NAMA Financing Summit hosted by Danish Climate Change Minister Martin Lidigard in Copenhagen May 15-17. Potential donors from developed nations will be put into a room with developing countries that have NAMA proposals ready. Efforts are well advanced to build a pipeline of NAMAs so that if donors are interested, there are plenty of options available.

The United Kingdom, Germany and Canada are leaders among major nations in NAMA funding. They’re among a growing group of industrialized countries readying commitments to mobilize $100 billion in public and private funds per year by 2020 for mitigation activities in developing countries. Many countries include NAMAs as part of their national development plans as a result. Models for such policy programs dot the globe from Japan to Bangladesh and from Spain to Thailand.

Mexico, for instance, has a Green Mortgage program that provides a credit of up to $1,250 on top of the original mortgage for workers to purchase new homes that incorporate energy-saving technologies into their designs. By offering attractive mortgages to buyers, the program increases the demand for eco-homes and creates employment in the construction industry. With support from the UK and Germany, this is one of the first policy efforts to be financed specifically as a NAMA.

Other promising proposals won’t have to wait long. The conversations begin in earnest in Copenhagen next month.