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

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