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Green Year Ahead? 9 things to know in 2009 about Mexican climate change policy

Mexico’s willingness to commit to voluntary emissions caps at COP-14 put it at the forefront of climate change mitigation efforts in Latin America, and made the country the example to follow for other developing nations. But Mexico’s efforts to implement climate change policy this year and in the future will be challenged and shaped by historical, political, and national baggage.

In order to put effective measures in place and meet the country’s 2050 targets, Mexican legislators and citizens will have to think creatively about how to incorporate—or circumvent—the issues currently attached to climate change reform on the Mexican agenda.

1. Location, Location, Location. Prior to Poznan, Mexico had been focused on situating itself in relation to other countries in terms of threat and responsibility. During the first week of COP-14, Reforma, one of the country’s major newspapers, published articles that highlighted Mexico’s position as the world’s twelfth largest emitter, and as the seventeenth country on Germanwatch’s list of nations most at risk from climate change. Post-2050 commitments, the challenge will involve setting self-comparing objectives, and moving away from the shadow of international rankings and towards the more serious business of national leadership.

2. Reactive Agency: Mexico implemented very few new climate change initiatives in the first half of 2008. Though Juan Rafael Elvira Quesada, Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, had declared in November 2007 that the “inactions of other countries” would not be “a brake” for Mexican policy, he had also joined Indian and Brazilian leaders in putting economic and social development at the forefront of Mexico’s priorities. Up until Poznan, Mexico had relied heavily on positive rhetoric backed up by very limited action. This year will require a forward-thinking and innovative attitude on the part of Mexican climate change strategists, including legislators, if Mexico is to begin movement towards meeting its 2050 goals.

3. Preparation is Key: Though Mexico’s voluntary emissions caps announcement was hailed as a surprise, it is clear that Mexican policy-makers had been preparing for appropriating a new stance on climate change at the global level. President Calderón met with Al Gore in 2007, and in October of last year, Mexican Senators met with US government representatives from the EPA, in a day-long event focussing on climate change issues. A law issued by the Mexican Congress on October 28 called for the design of a Estrategia Nacional Para la Transición Energética (National Strategy for Energy Transition), which included a focus on climate change mitigation, seemingly in preparation for Mexico’s intervention at Poznan.

4. A Private Matter: All energy reform debate in Mexico must and does take place within a controversial context of conversation about the possible privatisation of nationalised oil resources. The structure and national ownership of PEMEX (Mexican Petroleum) established after a government expropriation of all oil resources from international companies in 1938, is considered sacrosanct by many. Powerful nationalist lobbies try to block all energy reform issues (and climate change mitigation measures will be no exception) in Congress by garnering public support through a rhetoric of threat and national economic loss. Whether the language of environmental concern will be able to supplant (and so overcome the obstacle of) this historically entrenched conversation remains to be seen.

5. Where the US leads… Mexico must follow. Over the next two years, one of the Mexican government’s primary priorities will be establishing a rapport with a new American administration. At the top of the agenda will be migration, drugs and drug trafficking, and trade agreements (Mexico sends the majority of its export goods to the United States). Climate change may well lag behind other issues, and if the United States chooses to forego climate commitments in favour of dealing with the economic crisis, it has the power to pressure Mexico to push the climate issue to the bottom of its national agenda, too.

6. …but where the US has lagged, Mexico is now leading. Mexico’s willingness to take on emissions commitments in the current economic context is a contrast to Obama and Biden’s more conservative energy plan. Obama’s early enthusiasm on climate issues has waned as other concerns have waxed, and this has opened the possibility for Mexico to be a regional leader on the issue in Obama’s first term. Obama has said he will release an ambitious energy plan once he is in office, however, and the two countries’ bilateral relationship will heavily influence Mexico’s climate change policy.

7. A Proactive Legislation Approach. President Calderón’s ‘personal commitment to climate change’ (as it has been described by senior legislators in the country) has pushed the executive to gather political capital to deal with the issue during the first two and a half years of his term. Resonating interests within the PRI and PRD (the main opposition parties) and the Partido Verde (the Green Party, which has bizarrely focussed, of late, on lobbying for the death penalty for rapists and kidnappers, seemingly forgetting its green legacy) has allowed for progressive legislative action on climate change. As Marie Karaisl has commented elsewhere on this site, Calderon’s new economic crisis plan has made an effort to include green considerations. Mexico must continue to pursue the legislative angle of climate change mitigation efforts aggressively in order to meet its 2050 targets.

8. Putting its money where its mouth is. The economic crisis will have a considerable impact on Mexico’s capability to tackle climate change, as it will on nations around the world. A new law on renewable energy sources allocates $3 billion pesos for the Fondo Para la Transición Energética y el Aprovechamimento Sustentable de la Energía (Fund for Energy Transition and Sustainable Energy Usage). Mexican legislators must carve out an economic space for climate change policy, if it is to be implemented alongside concerns more pressing to the public, such as the fight against crime and drugs, and welfare and benefits issues, during the economic crisis.

9. “Education is the best provision for old age”: As Mexico has emerged into its new role as a climate change leader in Latin and North America, its first priority—and perhaps its biggest challenge—in 2009 must be education. Mexico’s current climate change strategy includes an ‘education and awareness’ element, as evidenced by the recent Ley para el Aprovechamiento de Energías Renovables y el Financiamiento de la Transición Energética (Law for Renewable Energy Usage and Energy Transition Financing).  But if Mexico is to overcome both the historical legacy and the current obstacles that stand in the way of decisive action on climate change in the country, it will require the full support of an informed, and concerned, population.

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3 comments

  1. Dave Brown

    I agree that Mexico has shown great potential over the last two months and agree that there is a big leadership role for it. But how will this translate into action below federal level; don’t local/state prefectures have a major policy role at least on implementation?

  2. Maria del Mar Galindo

    You’re absolutely right to highlight that states and municipalities will have a real role to play in the implementation of climate change policy and projects in Mexico.

    The new law regulating renewable energy usage gives municipalities and states the power to deal with CDM providers, as well as with carbon credit traders, directly. Furthermore, as you may know, municipalities in Mexico have full control of land use rights and can, theoretically, oppose the use of municipal land for something such as a CDM project, if they do not agree with a federal policy.

    This is obviously a key issue, and one I will tackle fully in my next blog, to be posted on Saturday. Thank you for your comment, and I look forward continuing this discussion with you.

  3. Maria del Mar Galindo

    Further to my comment above, I’ve now received new information from a political analyst in Mexico City, which suggests that, in fact, municipalities and states will not have the power to deal with CDM providers or carbon credit traders. ‘Dependent’ entities will be empowered to do so, but this term will refer to entities such as the Energy Commission, which is a federal body connected to the Executive.

    This obviously nullifies the first issue I had highlighted above, but the question of federal/state/municipal divides will nonetheless be very important to the implementation of climate change policy in the country.

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