Pablo Ramirez, Coordinator of the energy and climate change campaign, Greenpeace Mexico
The world is moving towards renewable energy. Cases like India with extremely ambitious targets for solar and wind generation bear witness, even the interest of large fossil fuel companies makes it very clear that the future is renewables. However, Mexican politics moves in a strange way.
On the one hand, international climate policy has brought the country together in agreements and alliances: the Paris Agreements and the Climate Ambition Alliance (in which it commits itself to net zero emissions by 2050), have led Mexico to assume commitments to reduce emissions and transition to a low carbon economy in its laws.
On the other hand, energy policy leading Mexico’s transition to renewables follows a completely different trajectory and a highly ideological discourse which fails to articulate how a transition will actually be implemented. The current administration has been transparent about some parts of this energy policy, like its focus on strengthening its two state companies – PEMEX and CFE – through intensive use of fossil fuels. And its sectoral plans, where it makes clear the national system of refining will be a priority and that generation of electricity will be a gateway for residual fuels like crude oil.
It is worth remembering that Mexico is the thirteenth highest emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the world (INECC, SEMARNAT, 2018). Due to its geographical location, the significant degradation of its ecosystems and its high levels of inequity, it is also extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change; the impacts of which are already a common occurrence, as seen with increase in frequency and intensity of precipitation events and fires. (INECC, National Atlas of Vulnerability to Climate Change, 2019)
If we take into account that the energy sector is responsible for more than 70% of national GHG emissions (INECC, 2015), with electricity generation second only to transport, it is clear that this sector is vital to the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.
The national electricity system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, with more than half of the country’s electricity generated from the burning of dry gas that is imported from the United States. Approximately 10% is generated from coal burning and 13.2% from thermoelectric plants that use dry gas or fuel oil. The participation of renewable energies by 2018 was 6.5%, of which 4.6% was generated from solar and wind sources (approximately 3.22GW) (INECC, 2015). This makes Mexico, Latin America’s second lowest user of renewables in their total energy supply, using only slightly more renewables than Barbados (ECLAC, 2019).
It is clear that political efforts to move towards a low emission electricity model have failed so far. But the reliability policies presented by Mexico’s Ministry of Energy (SENER) and National Energy Control Centre (CENACE) not only represent a strong break from the already insufficient energy transition, but also show an incomprehensible backward step that will likely lead to Mexico becoming one of the first G20 countries that fails to meet its reduction commitments. An event which will represent six years lost, in the country’s adaptation to climate change.
Across the world, it is the poorest populations that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In Mexico, plans to use highly polluting residual fuels will risk the right to health of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens.
Mexico’s energy transition must break from traditional extractive models that violate human rights, destroy ecosystems and generate energy peripheries with high levels of inequity in access. Instead, a regulated transition to a model where renewable energy serves as a tool to combat inequality and democratise the means of electricity production, must take place. With the inclusion of communities, both as leaders and as small to medium scale producers. Mexico has the capacity to lay foundations which take advantage of the country’s enormous renewable resources and lead our energy model towards a true sovereignty, based on the active participation of citizens in production/consumption and energy efficiency and saving schemes. But to do so, current discourse must outgrow outdated debates on the “risk” that renewable energies represent for Mexico’s electricity supply. We must continue to demand that “development” does not take away the right of future generations to live, we must continue to defend our rights to health and a healthy environment.