August 2, 2018 / 11:04 AM / 3 months ago

Pressure to secure Mexico energy supply endangers green dream

TEPIC, Mexico (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mexico’s president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will have a better chance of slashing poverty and inequality if he weaves a strong green thread through his policies, analysts say.

But despite high hopes the environment will be a top priority for his government, some fear plans to boost energy security by revitalizing Mexico’s petroleum industry sit uncomfortably with pledges on climate change and biodiversity.

“If they achieve everything they say, in six years Mexico will be in a very strong position regarding environmental protection,” Gustavo Ampugnani, Mexico director for conservation group Greenpeace, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“It’s the chance to see environment and climate themes intersecting with other policies, not divided off as happened in the previous governments.”

Lopez Obrador - a former mayor of Mexico City, known by his initials, AMLO - swept to victory on July 1, vowing to tackle corruption, violence and inequality in a bid to “transform” the Latin American country where over 40 percent live in poverty.

Outlining its environmental strategy before the poll, his party said it would prioritize communities as it seeks to improve water quality and access, while strengthening climate change action and promoting sustainable cities and biodiversity.

However, experts say steps to slash planet-warming carbon emissions, reduce deadly air pollution and push greener public transport are at odds with the new president’s intention to reinvigorate the petroleum industry.

Seeking to curb massive fossil fuel imports from the United States, Lopez Obrador wants to prioritize domestic crude oil production - which has fallen since 2004 - while building one or two refineries during his term, which begins on Dec. 1.

Andres Flores Montalvo, climate change director for the World Resources Institute Mexico, a think tank, said Mexico had high potential for cleaner energy sources.

“That can help a lot in achieving the main goal which is energy self-supply - with many other benefits,” he said.

Mexico has a target of producing 35 percent of electricity from clean sources by 2024, compared to just over a fifth today.

Fighting poverty and climate change are closely linked, Flores added.

“The more developed you are as a society, the more you are resilient to climate impacts,” he said.

WATER WORKS

Incoming environment minister, Josefa Gonzalez-Blanco Ortiz-Mena drew up the green strategy for AMLO’s party, the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).

The ardent environmentalist runs an eco-park in the south of Mexico that integrates animals back into the wild. Her office said she was not available for interview.

Mexico’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources has seen its budget cut by a third since the current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, came to power.

MORENA wants to rewrite a law it says prioritizes water concessions for industry over households.

In Mexico, where water access is deemed a human right, more than 30 percent of homes lack a regular water supply, and 70 percent of surface water is contaminated.

Environmentalists said more money was needed to enforce laws to stop industrial pollution and protect watersheds.

Restoring damaged ecosystems like forests, which are largely owned by rural and indigenous communities, could also improve water access and quality, while creating local jobs, they added.

The new government’s plan for a national climate change policy that promotes renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and mini hydro-power plants, could turn on the lights and bring opportunities for poor communities, experts said.

Large investors are increasingly looking to “de-carbonize” holdings and are less interested in petroleum, said Alba Aguilar Priego, head of new markets at the Mexican Stock Exchange.

They are eyeing long-term assets involving renewable energy, clean transport, and water and waste management, said Aguilar, whose exchange expects to start carbon trading next year.

She urged the new government to make environmental disclosure mandatory for businesses, to help investors choose well and ensure pension funds put a minimum into green assets.

TICKING CLOCK

Rolling out Mexico’s national biodiversity strategy will be essential to strengthen its ecosystems by 2024, said the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), which published the plan in 2016.

“We are running out of time,” said Andrea Cruz Angon, CONABIO’s biodiversity strategies coordinator.

Aware of the new government’s funding constraints, CONABIO is working with other organizations on ways to cover the costs of implementing the strategy, which focuses on conservation, landscape restoration and sustainable resource management.

Meanwhile, with nearly 80 percent of Mexicans living in cities, MORENA wants to make urban areas more sustainable and generate finance to upgrade public transport.

Also on its to-do list are reducing marine and coastal damage exacerbated by poorly planned development, while stopping illegal felling in Mexico’s forests.

The party says 70 percent of wood on the market comes from unauthorized sources.

Lopez Obrador has said he will not undertake projects without first considering their environmental and community impacts - and green groups will be watching closely.

“We believe this new administration has a great opportunity to reconcile society with nature,” said Greenpeace’s Ampugnani.

Reporting by Sophie Hares; editing by Megan Rowling. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate

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