Felipe Calderon, Chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, speaking at the Global Landscapes Forum, Lima, Peru. CIFOR/Marco Simola

Choice between development and nature a false dilemma, says Felipe Calderon

Former president of Mexico makes the case for better land use as chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) — Tackling environmental and development challenges is not a matter of either-or, but of both-and, says former president of Mexico (2006-2012) and honorary chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate Felipe Calderon, who will be a keynote speaker at the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) in Bonn, Germany, on Dec. 19.

During the 2016 World Government Summit in Dubai, he remarked that governments and companies are often stuck in a false dilemma —namely, that embracing greener economies means giving up on economic development.

“There is no trade-off between sustainability and profitable growth,” he recently wrote in an opinion piece in the Guardian newspaper, challenging the world’s economies to enact system changes in land use, cities and energy.

Calderon points out that halting deforestation and restoring degraded landscapes can, among other benefits, boost productivity and unlock economic opportunities to a higher degree than traditional industries.

“Conservative U.S. estimates show that landscape restoration employed more than 126,000 people in 2014 —more than logging, coal mining, iron and steel sectors combined,” he wrote in another op-ed earlier this year. He also noted that forest products generate around $1 trillion per year.

More reasons for restoring landscapes? According to Calderon, reducing carbon emissions, and creating employment in rural areas, thus narrowing —instead of continuing to deepen— the urban-rural divide.

“To realize the economic and employment benefits of land restoration, governments need to support policies and raise public awareness instead of staying on the traditional, unsustainable path of landscape degradation,” said Calderon, who is also a member of the Global Restoration Council, which boosts political support to accelerate landscape restoration worldwide.


During his tenure as president, Mexico hosted the 2010 Cancun climate change summit, which reached agreements on targets and took the decision to establish the Green Climate Fund.

Domestically, Calderon’s administration fostered the creation of 16 new protected natural areas, and pushed forward a number of sustainable development policies —for instance, by investing $2.5 billion in wind farms, attracting green technology companies and curbing deforestation, especially in the Mexican state of Michoacan.

Calderon, who now tours the world making the case for a new climate economy, got his first taste of advocacy in his childhood, as son of the co-founder of the National Action Party (PAN).

“As a boy, I enjoyed handing out fliers, knocking on doors and shouting slogans through an old sound system on the roof of an old van,” he recalled during a 2011 Stanford Commencement address at Stanford University in California.

Calderon’s father, one of his main inspirations in life, died before the country transitioned to democracy. “Some years afterwards, against all odds, I was elected president of Mexico,” he said.

Some 40 years ago, Calderon said, the Club of Rome think tank urged the international community to avoid “world-shattering catastrophes” by closing two gaps: the one between man and nature, and the one between north and south, rich and poor.

“What has prevented us from closing these gaps?” Calderon queried. “Perhaps one big mistake was to assume that we need to choose between fostering economic growth and preserving nature, and that is a false dilemma. It is possible to promote economic growth and at the same time preserve nature. It is possible to fight poverty and fight climate change simultaneously.”

This false conundrum must be debunked with science, he said. It must also be addressed through pragmatic solutions – products, processes and strategies spanning green infrastructures, clean energies and sustainable agricultural and urban landscapes, among others.

Calderon acknowledges the magnitude of the challenges, and warns that the 15-year window of opportunity to improve environmental conditions is dwindling.

However, he plows on —and urges the world’s governments and economies to do the same— out of the conviction that “in the end, man’s power to create is bigger than his power to destroy.”

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