- Population (2019): 127,575,529 people.
- GDP per capita: USD$9,946 (Ranked 66th globally).
- Emissions (2018): 695.26Mt (Ranked 11th highest emitting country).
- Earth.Org Sustainability Ranking: 49th.
Pledges and Targets
- Paris Agreement & NDCs: Mexico’s National Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), last updated in December 2020, targets the following:
- Commits to unconditionally reduce its emissions by 22% below a business-as-usual (BAU) scenario by 2030 from a 2013 baseline.
- Mexico could reduce emissions by up to 36% below BAU, conditional on receiving international financial, technical and capacity building support.
- Road to Net-Zero: Mexico has yet to announce a net-zero emissions target.
- Conservation Goals: Mexico has announced that it intends to reach a zero-net deforestation rate by 2030, targeting to replant as much land area as is cleared.
State of Affairs
Mexico has historically been considered a climate leader among developing nations, but the country has so far done little to turn its pledges and promises into actual policies. The current Obrador administration has not only shown a lack of short-term planning to mitigate Mexico’s share of global emissions, it is taking a step backward with its favouritism towards fossil fuels over renewable energy programmes. Obrador focused primarily on strengthening oil production under the narrative of achieving energy self-sufficiency, and has called for the construction of new oil refineries and giving more control over the fuel market to state oil company Petroleos.
Obrador has proposed a budget to modernise traditional energy sectors, such as the USD$8 billion dollar oil refinery in Tabasco and 6 existing upgrades for Pemex (Petroleos) infrastructure. and a recent energy bill that halted private renewable energy investment. The administration has used the coronavirus pandemic as a justification for the new bill, but in reality it has stopped prioritising the development of renewable energy projects since 2019. These decisions to favour fossil fuels over renewable energy have made it unlikely that Mexico will achieve its share of emission reductions needed to satisfy the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming by 1.5°C.
The NDC submitted in December of 2020 aims to unconditionally reduce GHG emissions in 2030 by 22% and reduce “up to 36% of GHG emissions” and “70% of black carbon emissions by 2030”. It also lays out 5 general categories, and 27 lines of action to achieve its NDC goals. The critical categories of policies to reduce emissions include ‘management of negative impacts on population,’ ‘conservation, restoration and sustainable use of biodiversity’ and ‘protection of strategic infrastructure.’ Unfortunately, the majority of the lines of action outlined by the Mexican government remain vague in nature. Additionally, while Mexico intends to reach peak emissions ‘starting from 2026’, it is unclear at what level the country will eventually peak at, since there are few guidelines on reducing or restraining emissions between now and 2026.
Climate Vulnerability & Readiness
The ND-GAIN Country Index by the University of Notre Dame summarises a country’s vulnerability to climate change and other global challenges in combination with its readiness to improve resilience. The more vulnerable a country is the lower their score, while the more ready a country is to improve its resilience the higher its readiness score is. Mexico’s ND-GAIN Index is:
- Vulnerability Score: 0.403 (ranks 82th out of 192 countries).
- Readiness Score: 0.379 (ranks 108th out of 192 countries).
Mexico is the second largest economy in Latin America and the 15th largest economy in the world, sandwiched between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean. Given its unique climate and geography, Mexico offers highly diverse continental, coastal and marine biology. However, this also means that Mexico is susceptible to severe climate change impacts, including but not limited to high temperatures and heavy precipitation.
Mexico is the 13th largest country in the world by landmass, and its large exposure to two oceans and complex topography makes the country vulnerable to extreme weather events. The World Bank’s data between 1990-2018 indicates that storm surges (40%), floods (26%), earthquakes (13%) and extreme temperatures (7%) account for the majority of natural hazards in Mexico, most of which will increase in either frequency or intensity due to climate change.
The majority of Mexico’s cropland is concentrated in Tamaulipas and Veracruz state, located in the eastern and southern part of the country and bordering the gulf of Mexico. These regions have historically witnessed the highest number of flood hazards, instances that are bound to become more frequent due to climate change and rising sea levels. The United States Agency for International Development projected that precipitation is likely to increase by 13-18% between now and 2050. Sea levels are also expected to rise between 0.4 to 0.7m along the Atlantic coastline, and this combination of a warmer climate and higher sea levels will likely lead to more intense tropical cyclones, The agricultural sector is particularly exposed to climate change, and it is estimated that between 1990 and 2017, agricultural losses accounted for 80 percent of all weather-related financial losses in Mexico.
From an economic perspective, Mexico’s large wealth gap seems to intensify its geographic vulnerability, especially along coastal areas. With storms accounting for 40% of natural hazards, the physical damage to the decade-old transportation, power lines and water infrastructure will incur high repairing costs for the government. Coastal lowlands (particularly on the Yucatan Peninsula) may be vulnerable to sea-level rise, affecting coastal tourism, which is one of the major economic sectors in Mexico.
Given Mexico’s high inequality, poorer regions and communities will be at a significantly higher exposure to climate change due to a lower capacity to adapt and fewer resources to rebuild in the event of catastrophic weather impacts. Weather conditions, such as storms and extreme temperature will have a greater impact on informal settlements, while flood and rising sea levels will force mass dislocations. In 2020, Hurricane Eta caused massive damage to Mexico. In Chiapas, more than 2000 homes were destroyed, with many of the San Cristóbal neighbourhoods damaged by flood. The massive inflow of Peñitas Dam also triggered an evacuation of the area, while in Tabasco more than 10 rivers overflowed. In the end, more than 80,000 people were affected and 27 people died from this tragedy.
The 2020 hurricane season affected more than 6 million people’s livelihoods in Central America, and many were forced to migrate elsewhere. The threat of climate migration will also be of serious concern to Mexico in the near future, both in terms of Mexican migrants attempting to leave the country, as well as migrants from even more vulnerable central American countries to the south flooding into Mexico.
Over the years, meteorological droughts and precipitous drops in precipitation have increasingly affected Mexico, leading to high temperature anomalies and crop failure. This has increased the occurrence of semi-seasonal forest fires, which have added more insecurity to Mexico’s agricultural and economic stability. In short, Mexico’s climate vulnerabilities and low resilience in several regions put the country at a relatively high risk to the impacts of climate change, but deep inequality and the looming threat of climate migrants and immigrants exacerbate the situation and place Mexico in a highly vulnerable position.
Environmental Policies by Sector
- Renewables made up 9.5% of Mexico’s total energy share in 2017, per IRENA.
- Between 2012 and 2017, the share of renewable energy in renewable energy supply grew by 10.8%
- In 2019, fossil fuels accounted for 92% of Mexico’s energy production. Renewable energy accounted for 4%
Currently, Mexico’s renewable energy sector faces various challenges under the conservative Obrador administration. Prior to this, Mexico was seen as a country with a highly diverse resource potential that could attract large-scale investments to diversify its energy sector. After a major constitutional energy reform in 2013, the government aimed to increase electricity coverage and growth in the clean energy sector, with a focus on high-potential solar power. And between 2015 and 2018, an electricity market framework in the form of a long-term energy auction was created to facilitate competition and reduce costs.
Under these conditions, Mexico was able to attract investment for various renewable energy projects. However, the Obrador administration has created stumbling blocks by implementing policies that favour the state-owned Federal Electricity Commission to become the primary supplier of electricity. While the private sector expressed strong interest in transitioning towards renewables, the nationalisation of Mexico’s energy sector has stagnated progress. Private companies are facing difficulties in investing in large-scale renewable energy projects, due to permitting delays and laws that prioritise state-owned energy projects to be fast-tracked.
Mexico has huge potential in the solar energy sector because of its relative closeness to the equator and generally warm climate. Based on the World Bank Solar Resource Map, large areas of Northern and central Mexico can generate up to 5.4 kWh of electricity everyday. Mexico hopes to source 35% of its energy from renewable sources by 2024, and over the years, they have steadily increased capacity to the Villanueva Solar Park in Coahuila, which by 2018 has an output of 754 MW per year. In 2019, a Spanish company called Elmya also completed the construction of the Aura Solar III PV plant, with a generation capacity of 32 MW and a battery storage capacity of 10.5 MW. Overall, the solar energy sector has been growing steadily, but the nationalisation of Mexico’s energy industry has kept growth far below its potential ceiling.
- As of 2019, there were 50.6 million motor vehicles in circulation in Mexico, which is a 26.6% increase compared to 2015.
- Per the IRENA, transportation accounted for 29% of Mexico’s renewable energy usage in 2017. While the whole transportation sector accounts for 16.2% of total emission at 155.9 million tonnes of annual emissions.
By far, the most common form of commute in Mexico is public transportation, accounting for almost half of all people’s movements at 49%, while another 28% commute to work by car, while the remaining 23% commute via foot or bicycle. However, Mexico ranked 64th in terms of public transport, which is considerably poor given people’s reliance on this form of transportation.
Concerned by long commute times and transport-related pollution, Mexico City has set out plans to improve transit by replacing local transportation with zero emission vehicles. There are also plans to increase clean electric energy from 25% to 35% by 2024. Meanwhile, Mexican consumers are eligible to receive exemptions from local tax payments if they transition toward electric vehicles. Likewise, the rising prices of gasoline and the banning of older cars on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday due to pollution alerts have also stimulated the sales of electric vehicles. In 2018, the Federal Electricity Commission invested USD$3 million dollars to install 100 charging stations for EVs across the city. As such, in 2018, Mexico reported a 68% growth in electric/hybrid vehicle sales, and in 2019, a total of 955,393 electric/hybrid vehicles were sold.
- 14.49% of Mexico’s terrestrial spaces are protected, as are 21.55% of marine areas, per the NGO Protected Planet.
- Per the Yale Environmental Performance Index, 80.73% of Mexico’s population is urbanised.
- Yale EPI ranked Mexico 41st in the world in terms of ecosystem vitality, which measures how well countries preserve, protect, and enhance their ecosystems and the services they provide.
- Per Global Forest Watch, Mexico possessed 49.8 million hectares of natural forest in 2010, extending over 26% of its land area. By 2020, it had lost 295 thousand hectares of natural forest.
Assessments from 2005 revealed that a significant portion of terrestrial, marine and epicontinental aquatic environments were not contained within a protected area or under government protection scheme. In 2012, a proposal, which aimed to protect vulnerable species and sensitive environments, have “led to the designation of priority sites for conservation in the three environments” as part of the sustainable territorial development strategy. In the same year, the National Wetland Inventory was developed to identify 10 million hectares of wetland complex, with 8.64 million hectares registered as wetland sites critical to achieving biodiversity conservation goals.
Significant progress in conservation was made between 2009 and 2015, as 11 new protected areas were established, bringing the total of protected areas to 176 which covers 25.63 million hectare of land or 12.96% of the country. In the same timeframe, another 30 wetland complexes were registered as crucially important sites, bringing the total to 142.
Over the years, Mexico has adopted laws to help facilitate biodiversity protection, such as the General Law on Climate Change in 2012, the Federal Law on Environmental Responsibility in 2013, and Priority Species and Populations for Conservation in 2014. At the same time, Mexico also has institutions in place to collect data such as the National System of Information and National Institute on Statistics and Geography. With that said, there is currently no comprehensive mechanism to monitor and review these NBSAP (National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans) implementations. While the aforementioned institutions facilitate information collecting, there is a need to increase the quantity and quality of said information, and develop better indicators and monitoring systems to fulfil the general framework of the Biodiversity Convention. This is inference to the Nagoya Protocol aim to provide higher transparency and better legal framework for the use of genetic resources.
- Per the global NGO Earth’s Endangered Creatures, Mexico possesses 1060 endangered species, of which 283 are plant species and 777 are animal species.
- Per the research group Animal Protection Index, Mexico formally recognises animal sentience in its legislation and has enacted laws that punish causing animal suffering.
In general, most of Mexico offers some form of protection to animals, but much of the practice is done through legislation at the state level, and therefore some states do not have comprehensive legislation in place to protect animal welfare. Existing animal protection legislation also relies heavily on enforcement mechanisms such as fines, which could range from 1-500 times the daily minimum wage, or administrative arrest. Therefore, Mexico’s animal rights may not be consistent throughout the country, and while some states such as Michoacan recognised sentience for all animals, others such as Colima explicitly excluded certain animals designated as “pests” from their animal welfare legislation.
Some states, such as Guerrero and Jalisco, established state-level animal welfare councils and commissions to ensure animal welfare continues to improve. The councils consist of multiple government departments, animal welfare organisations and veterinarians to ensure a holistic approach to making improvements. Fortunately, the recognition that animals feel pain and can suffer physically and psychologically is consistent throughout the whole country which sets a good basis for animal protection. The Animal Protection Act (2019) was amended to subject all citizens a duty of care, and makes it the responsibility of all animal owners to ensure animals are provided for and free of intentional harm throughout their lives.
- Per IQAir, in 2020 Mexico averaged 18.9µg/m³ (micrograms of air pollutants per cubic metre of air), ranking 82nd out of the 106 countries and territories where data was collected.
- Mexico has a higher PM2.5 concentration than the WHO exposure recommendation. This implies that many Mexicans live in a place with relatively poor air quality.
- Mexico produces 53.1 million tonnes of waste annually, of which 14.9 million tonnes could have been reused.
Overall, Mexico’s air quality is considered moderately unsafe, as its annual mean concentration of harmful particulate matter stays consistently around around 20.0µg/m³ (2019 was 20.5µg/m³, 2018 was 19.7µg/m³ and 2017 was 20.4µg/m³), well above the WHO recommended exposure rate of 10µg/m³ on average. In April of 2019, only 3 out of 20 monitor stations for harmful particulate matter reported amounts better than the UN health standards. The poor air quality contributes to the death of 17,000 people every year, and 1,680 of these deaths are children under the age of 5.
The poor air quality is due to Mexico’s rapid population growth, industrial development and the proliferation of private vehicles. Mexico’s population grew from 3 million in 1905 to 120 million today, while 30% of cars currently on the road are over 20 years old. These vehicles. are incredibly inefficient and produce large amounts of pollutants.
In 2019, the greatest pollution was caused by wildfires, where 66 fires were reported in the capital and another 130 were reported in the State of Mexico. The smoke and dust particles suspended in the air only worsen the already high temperature, low rainfall, and prolonged drought. Mexico over the years has recognised the inevitability of forest fire and transitioned to fire management as opposed to total suppression of forest fires. This reform forestry policy has led to improvement in two areas. One of which is a strengthened coordination between the different levels of government, which is done through establishing agreements between Mexico’s National Forestry Commission and federal, state and local agencies, to improve cooperation to manage wildfires. The second area is an increase in societal participation, such as community-based training and promotion of public engagement, to increase public awareness and mitigating impact of wildfires.