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What is Mexico doing about climate change?

Posted on 15 April 2024 by dana1981

This is a re-post from Yale Climate Connections

The June general election in Mexico could mark a turning point in ensuring that the country’s climate policies better reflect the desire of its citizens to address the climate crisis, with both leading presidential candidates expressing support for renewable energy.

Mexico is the 10th-most populated country with the 15th-largest economy and is also the 11th-most climate-polluting country in the world.

In international surveys conducted in 2022 and 2023, Mexico had one of the highest percentages of citizens worried about human-caused climate change at 92%, compared to just 63% of Americans.* And 88% of Mexican respondents reported that they consider climate change an important issue that their country should address as a priority, compared to just 58% of Americans. This concern may reflect that Mexico is highly vulnerable to droughts, heat waves, hurricanes, flooding, and food and water insecurity worsened by climate change.

But the Mexican government’s climate policy record has been inconsistent. At times, the country’s leaders have taken steps toward reducing its share of climate pollution, but its current and outgoing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, commonly known by his initials AMLO, has tended to prioritize domestic fossil fuel resources over low-carbon alternatives.

Mexico will hold its next general election on June 2, 2024. Voters will select the next president, who will succeed AMLO in October of this year.

A potential turning point

The leading presidential candidate, with about 60% support in polling, is Claudia Sheinbaum. She’s the former leader of Mexico City and an AMLO protégée, but also a scientist with a Ph.D. in environmental engineering who co-authored chapters in the Fourth and Fifth IPCC reports. She also plans to encourage private investment in renewable energy in Mexico.

Her closest opponent in the polls, with 35% support, is Xóchitl Gálvez, who has expressed an even more pro-clean energy position, declaring that she would end the country’s addiction to fossil fuels.

A brief history of Mexican climate leadership

Felipe Calderón was elected Mexican president for the 2006-2012 term (the Mexican constitution limits each president to a single six-year term). He had served as the country’s energy secretary in 2003-2004 and recognized the importance of addressing climate change. Under Calderón’s leadership, Mexico adopted a voluntary climate mitigation target in 2008 and passed a General Law on Climate Change in 2012. Among other provisions, the law set targets to generate at least 35% of power with clean technologies by 2024 and to reduce climate pollution 30% below business-as-usual levels by 2020 and 50% below 2000 levels by 2050. Unfortunately, the former two goals have slipped out of reach.

Calderón’s successor Enrique Peña Nieto had a more mixed record on climate and energy policy. His government passed a tax on carbon pollution, but it only applies to the additional emissions generated by burning coal or oil instead of natural gas. Peña Nieto signed a constitutional Reform on Energy that was aimed at loosening the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission’s (CFE’s) monopoly over the national power sector, which has historically relied heavily on fossil fuels. That move opened up Mexico’s electricity generation to private clean energy investment, and also its oil and gas reserves to external investors.

But AMLO moved to reverse those reforms when he replaced Peña Nieto in 2018, and he worked to maintain CFE’s share of Mexico’s power generation at a minimum of 54%. Clean energy investments in Mexico often come from foreign companies, and AMLO has expressed a preference for national ‘energy independence,’ which tends to favor domestic fossil fuel sources, which are also significant contributors to the federal budget. In fact, his energy ministry published rules for the national grid that would have prioritized energy security and fuel reserves (fossil fuels) over economic efficiency (cheaper wind and solar power). The Supreme Court of Mexico recently voided those rules.

That decision leaves Mexico’s energy and climate path at an important inflection point with a big election just a few months away.

Mexico’s current climate status

Mexico’s climate pollution predominantly comes from three sectors: transportation (30%), power (29%), and industry (27%). The country’s power sector emissions have been rising, especially over the past two years as the government has prioritized fossil fuels and drought has reduced its hydroelectricity production. Mexico’s share of clean electricity generation fell below 22% in 2023 after peaking at 27% in 2021 and thus will surely fall short of the 35% clean power target by 2024 set in its 2012 climate law. Most of the country’s power comes from natural gas, and more than three-quarters is produced by burning fossil fuels. As a result, Mexico’s overall climate pollution has risen about 33% above 2000 levels.

A graph of fossil fuel emission in Mexico, from 1900 to 2024. Mexican annual fossil fuel greenhouse gas emissions. Created by Dana Nuccitelli with data from Global Carbon Budget.

Climate Action Tracker, an independent project that monitors whether governments’ actions measure up to the goals outlined in the Paris climate agreement, gave Mexico’s climate policies its worst rating of “critically insufficient” due to a lack of ambition and weakening of policies and targets under AMLO’s leadership. The project noted, “If all countries were to follow Mexico’s approach, warming would exceed 4°C” — a catastrophic level of global warming.

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Mexico is also highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, especially extreme heat and drought, which could lead to food and water insecurity. Mexico City, which is the seventh-most populated city in the world with over 21 million residents, is already in danger of running out of water. A 2021 study estimated that climate change has so far reduced Mexican agricultural productivity by about 25-30%, and a 2010 paper suggested that these effects could lead to millions of Mexican climate immigrants coming to the U.S. border by 2080.

A potential 2024 inflection

Mexico has made little progress toward reducing emissions from its transportation sector, and electric vehicles account for just 0.26% of new car sales. But that could change relatively soon, as Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD has announced plans to build a factory in Mexico. The median income in Mexico is only about $6,000, which is about five to 10 times lower than that in the United States depending on how it’s measured, and so bringing BYD’s relatively cheap cars to the Mexico market could significantly increase electric vehicle adoption in the country. Mexico’s energy regulator will also have to issue guidelines to allow for the installation of more charging stations.

2020 paper published in Nature found that Mexico’s climate policies have tended to follow its National Development Plans. These are plans published during the first year of the new government to specify the national objectives, strategy, and priorities for Mexico’s development. The 2006 National Development Plan was the first to characterize climate change as an unequivocal environmental problem and to include targeted actions, and the Calderón government followed suit. The 2012 National Development Plan somewhat de-emphasized climate change, and the Peña Nieto government had a more mixed climate record. The 2019 plan included a section about rescuing the CFE from an onslaught of private energy investments, which became a focus of AMLO’s government to the detriment of clean energy production.

“Right now, nongovernmental actors are creating a proposal for the Plan Nacional de Descarbonización y Resiliencia Climática 2024-2030 [National Decarbonization and Climate Resilience Plan],” the 2020 Nature study’s lead author Arturo Balderas Torres wrote in an email. “Ideally any candidate who wins the election should commit to this proposal that is being generated in an unprecedented participatory way and include its proposals in the new NDP.”

In short, Mexico is a highly climate-vulnerable country with a very climate-concerned population. Its leadership has thus far taken insufficient steps toward addressing the climate crisis, but 2024 could change the trajectory of Mexico’s climate policies and clean technology solutions.

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Comments 1 to 1:

  1. On behalf of Mexico and the many,many nations on this planet who will struggle more than the "entitled wealthy", climate justice - can it come from those who have given us the current 20% of global co2.

    Full article here                                  

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