US Congress can help reverse alarming climate trends in Mexico
Lawmakers pressing for changes to the updated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have focused on ways the renegotiated agreement could end the outsourcing of jobs and pollution. These are crucially important, but before any new trade deal can garner support in Congress, it also must address alarming climate trends in Mexico.
Despite its international commitments, Mexico’s government appears to be backsliding on climate, a disturbing trend that has gone largely unnoticed in the U.S. as we gape in horror at our own climate-denying president. The updated NAFTA agreement — renamed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA — is an opportunity to ensure that Mexico achieves its climate targets. In fact, the USMCA lists seven multilateral environmental agreements that U.S. lawmakers have established as necessary parts of trade deals. Adding Paris to that list would ensure this important agreement with the U.S.’s top two trade partners meaningfully addresses climate change.
What is the connection between trade and climate? We know that unbridled free trade will exacerbate climate change. Global trade has more than tripled since NAFTA went into effect in 1994. Over that same time, annual global carbon emissions increased by more than 60 percent. So linking the Paris commitments to USMCA is both practical and critically important.
According to the World Resources Institute, Mexico is the tenth-largest emitter of climate pollutants, just behind Canada. The U.S. is second, behind China.
Mexico has been considered a global leader on climate-change policy, becoming one of the first countries in the world — and the first developing country — to pass a climate-change law in 2012. The law was updated in 2018 to include a reference to Mexico’s international commitments from the Paris Agreement. In 2015, the country announced its Energy Transition Law to help encourage clean energy generation after significant energy reforms in 2014 opened the sector to private investment. That law also aligned with Mexico’s international climate commitment to the Paris Agreement to reduce its climate pollution 22 percent by 2030.
Mexico was the first developing country to submit its climate commitment for Paris and was the first to include adaptation measures and black carbon reductions. At the same time, the country’s enviable resources for solar and wind energy have helped generate significant growth and investment in the renewable energy sector as a result of the approval of the Energy Transition Law.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López-Obrador (or AMLO, as he is commonly referred to) took office in December 2018 and has prioritized social justice, self-sufficiency and fighting corruption. Unfortunately, he has focused his first year on actions that backtrack on the country’s clean energy successes and instead champion the fossil fuel industry:
- Financially propping up Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex), the failing state-owned petroleum company;
- Fast tracking the environmental permits for a new refinery for Pemex, including illegal deforestation of land for the project;
- Cancelling the fourth long-term energy auction, the primary way renewable energy companies secure long-term contracts;
- Slashing the government’s budget for solar and wind energy while dedicating more than eight times as much for rehabilitating old coal-fired power plants; and
- Proposing to change the rules for Renewable Energy Certificates, originally to stimulate new renewable energy plants. The proposal would allow the Federal Electricity Commission to include old plants in the certificate scheme, effectively negating the need for new clean energy plants.
These actions could prevent Mexico from meeting its existing international climate commitments and national climate goals. Critically, by contributing to a warming climate over the long run, misguided actions such as these are contrary to the sustainable development and social justice gains the AMLO government aspires to. This is coming against the backdrop of scientific evidence showing that we need to become more ambitious if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Mexico’s own vulnerability to global warming’s impacts are grave, and the risks overwhelmingly affect the most vulnerable and marginalized communities. The government projects that increased flooding alone could cost the country $7 billion, and the changing climate could cost more than $1 billion from 2020-2029 in Mexico City, Guadalajara and Monterrey combined. It is also unfortunate because Mexico could move much further toward energy independence by focusing on building up its domestic renewable energy and energy efficiency sectors.
A trade deal that incorporates climate considerations could advance social justice and self-sufficiency in the country by helping to reduce the worst impacts of climate change and by supporting clean-energy growth that benefits communities.
By including climate change — as well as other fundamental environmental and labor standards — in USMCA, we can help hold both the U.S. and Mexico to the international commitments they made to help fight global warming. As members of Congress continue their negotiations with the Trump administration, they should strive for an agreement that truly reflects the 21st century and benefits neighbors and communities across borders.
Amanda Maxwell is the director of the Latin America project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Follow her on Twitter @amaxwell_nrdc.
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