Hot air or cooling the heat?

Pioneering climate change legislation in Mexico

By Felicia Line

Following the recent approval of a national climate change law by the House of Deputies and the Senate, Mexico is on the road to being the second country in the world (after the UK) to pass revolutionary legislation aimed at slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

After more than two years of writing, rewriting and disagreements in the lower house, the law was approved without any amendments by the Senate. All that awaits the new rules now is the signature of outgoing, conservative president Felipe Calderón. It is likely that the new legislation will be officially announced around the time of next month’s G20 meeting in the Mexican Pacific resort of Los Cabos.

The law has received praise for its bold intentions to contribute to international targets of reducing the risk of temperature rise of more than 1.5 to 2°C. As a developing country, but also one of the top-15 richest economies in the world, Mexico is not required as a Non-Annex I country by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to have legally binding targets. The law however does not set any obligatory targets, instead affirming the previously announced voluntary target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% in 2020 and 50% in 2050. These aims take the baseline year as 2000 and are conditional on international financial support.

Compared to its big brother in the north, Mexico is ranked as the 11th biggest emitter in the world, at 1.5% of total global emissions. The US is the second largest polluter after China, producing 18.11% of total greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is estimated that at the current rate of emissions growth Mexico could be the 5th biggest emitter in 2050.

With an estimated 40% of the total population living in poverty, Mexico has gone further than the US in laying out the road map to contribute to mitigating global climate change and putting the country on track to more sustainable development. The law also lays out targets to source 35% of electricity production from renewable energy by 2024 as well as halting and reversing deforestation and forest degradation. These targets are hoped to create new jobs in the renewable energy sector, generate savings through energy efficiency measures and direct carbon revenues to rural communities for conserving forests.

Meeting these targets will require heavy international support through carbon markets, financial and technical aid, as well as strengthening local capacities. The effective application of the law at the three levels of government will be the greatest challenge: Mexican legislation is often criticized by academics as being poorly enforced due to ‘European standards with African budgets’.

Within the country, a robust monitoring, reporting and verification of results will have to be strengthened, with better co-ordination between different levels of government and the academic, private and social sectors. Effective transparency and public participation measures will have to be ensured in order to comply with international financing standards and ensure the needs of the people are met. This will be more of a challenge at the lower levels of government, where corruption, nepotism, and a lack of continuity between government administrations are common.

The current proportionally low investment in the education system and Research and Development (R&D) will also have to be scaled up in order to encourage the development of appropriate and sustainable solutions by local talents. Innovation should be led by the academic, social and private sectors and fed into government policy in order to maximize creativity and efficiency.

Meeting the renewable energy goals will also depend on breaking up the monopoly of the National Electricity Commission (CFE) and the National Petroleum Company (PEMEX), in order to allow independent renewable energy suppliers to enter the market. Both state giants will need to reform and restructure their current subsidy systems in order to incentivise energy efficiency and renewable energy production. The law also implies phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, which might raise energy costs and reduce profits for powerful invested interests, displeasing industrial and oil lobbyists.

Luckily for the current government, with national, state and municipal elections looming on 1st July, the daunting task to meet their climate change targets, for now, has been left to the next administrations.

Felicia Line works in Chiapas, Mexico

Puzzling clues

A Venezuelan government sympathiser claims to find death threats hidden in a crossword puzzle

The supposed inflammatory answers were “asesinen” (they kill), “Adán” (Adam) and “ráfaga” (burst of machine-gun fire). Put together they could seem like a coded threat to the life of the president’s brother, Adán, but the veteran compiler who constructed the puzzle in Ultimas Noticias newspaper last week has totally denied the suggestion of a secret plot. Neptali Segovia was quoted as saying “I have nothing to hide because the work I have been doing for the last 17 years has only a cultural and education intention, and is transparent”.

The man accusing the wordsmith of the alleged subversion was Perez Piruela, a pundit on state TV. Piruela said “It’s a message…I’m speaking in the name of truth” and then went on to draw an amazing comparison between Segovia’s crossword and the coded resistance messages sent by General de Gaulle from London to France during the Second World War. The arguments over the clues go so far as the meaning of the last offending answer, with ‘ráfaga’ also being used daily to describe a gust of wind, not just a hail of bullets.

President Hugo Chávez has now been at home for a week since getting back from Cuba after his latest successful round of radiotherapy. He has admitted that the illness and subsequent treatment have been a setback. However, he says he is determined to recover enough to reach a level where he can get back on his political horse, rejoin the presidential race and gallop freely past Henrique Capriles, his opposition challenger in the October election.

“As the hours and days pass, I’m sure that with God’s favour, medical science and this soldier’s body that envelops me, I will get back to where I must be, in the front line of the battle, alongside the Venezuelan people, promoting the socialist revolution.”

The last week has been a busy one for Chávez as in the past seven days he has also created an advisory body called the ‘Council of State’. The new national group will have nine members but it has already come into question with regard to the unorganised issue of political succession. The Bolivarian leader of the country has not designated anyone to follow him in the short-term, should he succumb to his illness, or in the long-term, if and when he steps down. Just before one of his recent trips to Cuba for another round of cancer treatment, he jokily warned his brother, (the crossword-concealed Adán), against trying to wrest the presidency from his control behind his back while he was lying in hospital.

But on a more serious note, it seems that the president has not even considered the possibility that he might not be able to stand in the autumn vote, and he has equated his health battle with the battle against the West: i.e., one that he must win, one that he will win, and one that unites all anti-imperialists. Nor has he even come clean about the idea that he might truly lose the election. He has said openly that his rival will not be able to defeat him, but, if Capriles does win (the unwinnable election), then as a ‘democratically mature’ president, Chávez has also said that he will freely stand aside.

With a leader as misty and mercurial as this, it is no wonder that political paranoia is on the rise in Venezuela. The presidential ballot is too far off and too uncertain to call just yet. But as we have seen this week with the scandal over the apparent ‘death-clues’ crossword, it would not be too odd an idea to suggest that the result of the election may not truly lie with the pollsters but with the puzzlers instead.

Shifting sands

On May 23 and 24 Egyptians will vote in the first round of the first presidential election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak

After growing unrest and anxiety over the military generals that have been governing the country since the overthrow of Mubarak’s regime last February, the public are finally getting their say. The parliamentary elections were welcomed and did not throw up many surprises, with the Islamists landing the most seats through the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. But it is the chance to elect the figurehead to lead the country away from dictatorship and military governance which has created the most excitement.

The first ever televised presidential debate took place last night, on 10 May, between the two front-runners of the 13-strong field of candidates. Neither ex-Foreign Minister Amr Moussa nor former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul-Futoh have clean copybooks and their battle once more draws a long, deep line in the sand in between the two men over the issue of religion: the open liberalism of Moussa against the moderate Islam of Abdul-Futoh. With parties of all colours represented in parliament, from hardline Salafis to hardline secularists to the young revolutionaries who powered the upheavals last year, it is unsurprising that there is such a long list of possible presidents to lead a free nation for the first time. However, in any race for the hot-seat in any country there is always a short-list and a couple of favourites, it is just a further source of division that the top two for the new Egypt have plenty of baggage between them.

The country that one of them will be heading is an important place. As the most populous member of the Arab world and one of the largest in Africa, with more than 81m citizens, by size alone Egypt is a key state. But economically it is significant as well. It has been categorised as one of the crucial emerging economies on the CIVETS list, alongside Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Turkey and South Africa. This move has also been criticised, particularly seeing as economic growth has stalled in recent years. In 2009, GDP output was 4.6% but by last year, the revolutionary turmoil had taken its toll and the figures plummeted to 1%. Saudi Arabia has just approved a $2bn loan to help Cairo through this tricky period. Estimates for future Egyptian GDP growth are looking a bit brighter but do vary wildly:  forecasts for the 2012-13 financial period range from 1.6% to 3.5%. It is clear that the huge national changes that have taken place have wounded the country’s economy, mainly through scaring investors and foreign tourists. But they have been national changes which will hopefully free the nation.

The main geopolitical aspect to Egypt used to be its relations with Israel. Cairo not just recognised the Jewish nation but maintained a long-standing peace accord with its neighbour. However, in the debate last night, both candidates supported revision of the international deal, and Abdul-Futoh went as far as calling Israel an “enemy”. Egypt has an important trans-continental and regional role to uphold, being a bridge state between Africa-Asia, the Maghreb-Mediterranean, Arab-Israeli relations and Northern Africa-Central Africa. Egypt is also somewhere with major internal religious differences, as more than half of the world’s 18 million Coptic Christians live in the country. And Cairo’s Tahrir Square has become an unofficial focus point for the Arab unrest. It is a country on the move, but with an uncertain destination and with many uncertainties within. The next two weeks of campaigning to elect a fair driver to carry on the revolution are going to be as heated as the upheaval itself.

MEXICO ELECTION I – Back to the future

On 1 July Mexico will hold a general election. This blog will cover the vote live from inside the country

If the polling situation remains the same then the old political beast, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), will get their man back into the hot-seat on 1 July. There is hardly any electoral evidence or think-tank forecasting to suggest that the presidential landscape will undergo an upheaval (and it would have to be a breath-taking shift) that will shove the favourite, the PRI’s Enrique Peña Nieto, off course. As the polls stand, and as they have stood for a long time, the National Action Party (PAN) incumbent Felipe Calderón has low approval ratings (and cannot stand for a second term under the constitution anyway) and Enrique Peña Nieto is racing ahead in first place.

There are three other candidates for the top job but they are floundering away well below Mr Peña Nieto. He is closing in on securing 50% of the votes, putting him securely into the head of state’s residence, Los Pinos, later this year. Pretty much tied for second place are the PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota and the Party of the Democratic Revolution’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador (who interchange second and third place and both are on about 25%). López Obrador was the runner-up last time round, in 2006, to Calderón, (by an incredibly small margin, and one which he disputed for months afterwards, camping out in the capital and rallying his supporters). Back then it was the old opposition, the PRD and the PAN, slugging it out for the presidency, having finally ditched the PRI from the country’s leadership in 2000 after 70 years of running Mexico as a one-party state through a mix of corruption, fiddling results and a sprinkling of rhetoric.

But it seems that the nation is looking backwards for its next step forwards. The PRI may have been missing from the top job for the last twelve years but they have always been there or thereabouts in Congress. They have a healthy majority in the Cámara de Diputados lower house heading into the 1 July vote. After two successive presidencies of the conservative PAN, it seems the electorate is ready for a change. And they do not want the PRD man to be the new jefe de estado.  They want the old guys back.

Has the PRI changed? Does it even matter? Josefina Vázquez Mota has not been able to secure the votes of women happy at the chance to give their country una presidenta. That would certainly be a sign of progress, shaking the old scourge of machismo and following many neighbours with female leaders. In fact, it is Peña Nieto who has the lead in women voters, many of whom openly admit being seduced by his dashing good looks rather than his policies.

Finally, there is the PANAL candidate, Gabriel Quadri de la Torre. He knows what his problem is: particracy. He has openly acknowledged his is fighting an uphill contest against the three big parties that tend to gobble up all the votes. He presents himself as a fresh choice for an embattled country but he is wobbling around at the bottom of the polls. Maybe he is too much of an unknown, risky punt for the voters. But then even the liberal PRD are finding it tough electioneering, not to mention former cabinet minister Josefina Vázquez Mota, tainted by links to criticised President Calderón. Maybe the only option then is to go back to what you know: a handsome young man from an old, somewhat less clean-shaven party.