State legislators joined local officials, economists, CEOs and Mexican bankers to stress the need for border-region infrastructure investments through a series of panel talks at an environmental forum Tuesday.

The 25th annual Border Environmental Forum, this year focused on “The Green Economy & Bilateral Integration,” was hosted by the North American Development Bank, established in San Antonio by the governments of the United States and Mexico in 1994 to invest in communities along the border.

Taking place at the Westin Riverwalk hotel ballroom Tuesday, and to be continued Wednesday, discussions focused on the ways that bi-national collaboration and financial investments in the border region can dovetail with efforts to alleviate the worst effects of climate change.

Esteban Moctezuma Barragán, Ambassador of México to the US,
Mexican Ambassador to the U.S. Esteban Moctezuma Barragán spoke at the Border Environmental Forum on Tuesday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

“If we’re serious about solutions, we need to internalize the reality that sharing a border means sharing challenges, and most importantly, sharing solutions,” said Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Esteban Moctezuma Barragán. Behind him stood the flags of the border states of United States and Mexico.

One of those challenges is that around eighty percent of border communities have water sanitation problems, he said, citing a figure from the Mexican government.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg echoed the need for cooperation, speaking briefly at the event before he was whisked away for a call with White House staff.

“Working with partners across jurisdictional boundaries is essential to staving off the worst impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events that overwhelm our infrastructure and burden our frontline communities,” he said, calling climate change the “greatest existential threat of our time.”

Nirenberg’s speech focused on his climate plan for the San Antonio, one of the first efforts his administration took on after he assumed office in 2017. The plan seeks to make the city carbon-neutral by 2050, fulfilling the goals of the Paris Accord.

“If we in San Antonio can pass and begin to implement a climate action and adaption plan that meets the stringent requirements of a world treaty […] then these kinds of strategies can be adopted and implemented anywhere in the world,” Nirenberg said.

Attendees in business attire listened as they ate a three-course lunch at the black tablecloth event, while hotel waitstaff filed quietly between tables. The dessert was blueberry tart with orange cream.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) said “good news” came in the form of Congress’s recent infrastructure measures. The Senate last week approved a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure blueprint to rebuild the nation’s roads and bridges. It has also approved a $3.5 trillion budget plan, pushed by Democrats, that would address climate change and health care. Both measures are set to be debated soon in the House.

Referencing February’s historic winter storm and Hurricane Harvey, Castro said Texas was already experiencing some of the extreme weather described in the landmark report released earlier this month by the United Nations, a blistering assessment of current efforts to combat climate change.

Castro said the answer to these challenges was to invest in infrastructure. “Clean, renewable, sustainable infrastructure.”

Pedro Romero Torres-Torija, an entrepreneur sometimes called the “border economy czar” because of his role as a senior adviser to Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, emphasized the need for more cross-border transportation. He said that if the cities near the border — such as Los Angeles, San Antonio, Juarez, and Monterrey — were to hew together, they could form an economic “mega-region.”

So-called “green finance” emerged as a through-line topic among speakers.

Pia Orrenius, vice president and senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, called the growing tendency of large firms and investment banks to invest in renewable energy and related technologies an “irreversible trend.”

She pointed to the efforts of energy giants like BP and Chevron, which over the next decade plan to pour billions into green technologies like biofuels and efficient energy storage.

Benjamín Torres-Barrón, a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie Mexico, said investments like these — and a new scoring rubric for investments being used called ESG, short for Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance — are game-changing.

Climate change is creating new investment opportunities for large companies as the energy market undergoes massive transformations, he said: “We have to keep in mind that not all companies are just doing this because it looks good,” he said. “It does look good — and it brings in money.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Mayor Ron Nirenberg left the border environmental forum to take a call with President Joe Biden when, in fact, the call was with White House staff members.

Waylon Cunningham

Waylon Cunningham writes about business and technology. Contact him at waylon@sareport.org.