Mexico ended the year 2008 with great expectations regarding climate change action for the year to come: demonstrating leadership, it announced voluntary emissions reductions through a cap-and-trade scheme to be operational by 2012. But the efforts necessary for this undertaking could be seriously hampered by other national priorities: the fight against organized crime – and of course the economic crisis.
A look at planned government spending for 2009 demonstrates the prioritization: in November, congress approved a budget of US$ 170 billion. According to the Secretaría de Hacienda (Mexico’s Treasury) aggregating planned expenditures across the security sector (the Ministry of Security, special programmes, law and order, etc), will amount to USD 6.7 billion an approximate 30% increase compared to last year’s spending. The Ministry of Environment (SEMARNAT) will receive an approximate USD 3.3 billion.
The prioritization of security is further evident in official discourse, especially of President Calderon who has come under heavy pressure from civil society to improve the currently dismal security situation. News agencies differ on the exact number, but this year between 3,000 and 5,000 people have been murdered partly due to the response of the drug cartels to the fight against organized crime that President Felipe Calderon initiated in 2006. Moreover, Mexico by now leads the list of countries with the highest number of kidnappings before Iraq and Colombia. Yet, organised crime may impinge on environmental efforts more directly: undermining environmental regulations and legislation where it is cheaper for polluters to bribe themselves out of their obligations and responsibilities.
Apart from security issues, Calderon has approved an extensive infrastructure expansion plan, partly to counterbalance economic losses caused by Mexico’s direct dependence on the ailing US economy. The 2009 budget, allocates USD 5 billion to infrastructure development, 2/3 of that money into roads and highways. Taking a pessimistic view, these infrastructure projects may simply eclipse environmental and climate mitigation efforts such as reforestation, and induce additional demand for road transport. From an optimistic point of view, these investments in infrastructure development may create an opportunity to identify and incorporate sustainable solutions into infrastructure planning and design.
This year’s congress elections are a third factor that will influence climate change and environmental policy most likely negatively given the above two priorities. In any case, Mexico has certainly an interesting year ahead.

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