April 24, 2024

Mexico’s likely next president is a scientist. Politics usually keeps her quiet about climate threats

MEXICO CITY (AP) — López’s house continued to fill with seawater as the Gulf of Mexico rose and winter storms worsened.

Cristina López and her family decided to leave after a heavy storm in November, knowing that the ocean would eventually devour their home in the fishing village of El Bosque.

“There was nowhere else to go,” says López, who now lives about a 20-minute drive away.

Due to climate change, sea level rise and increasingly violent storms are eroding thousands of miles of Mexico’s coastline facing both the Gulf and the Gulf of Mexico. Pacific. There is drought around this country with almost 130 million inhabitants drain reservoirs and creating serious water shortages. Deadly heat puts pressure on people and crops. The aging infrastructure is struggling to keep up.

But don’t expect the leading presidential candidate, Claudia Sheinbauman environmental scientist and co-author of the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to make climate a central part of her campaign ahead of the June 2 elections.

That’s because while many countries are moving away from burning fossil fuels like oil and gas, which cause climate change, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, one of Mexico’s most popular leaders in generations, has moved his country in the opposite direction.

Sheinbaum is often seen as López Obrador’s mentee, who is limited by law to one term. As president, he has pumped billions of dollars into Mexico’s debt-ridden state oil company and pushed an overhaul of the country’s energy sector, boosting fossil fuel production and hampering investment in renewable energy projects. That has led Sheinbaum, who was mayor of Mexico City until last June, to remain largely silent on global warming in Mexico, the world’s 11th largest oil producer.

At the heart of her silence seems to be the conundrum many leaders face in the face of climate change: should they sacrifice immediate political and economic needs to grapple with the longer-term changes required for the survival of the man?

Sheinbaum has told The Associated Press that she believes in science, technology and renewable energy, but has also said that if she wins, she would continue to increase energy generation by state-owned companies, which often operate power plants using oil and coal.

Her main opponent, Xóchitl Gálvez, a former opposition senator, has said she would promote private investment in the energy sector if elected. The businesswoman has pledged to permanently close refineries in the states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas within the first six months of her presidency, and has proposed transforming the country’s state oil and gas company into one that can also produce electricity using from renewable sources such as geothermal energy. .

Whoever wins will become Mexico’s first female president.


As the election approaches, a worsening water crisis is making it harder for Sheinbaum and her main opponent to ignore Mexico’s climate threats.

Sprawling Mexico City gets its water from over-drilled underground aquifers and an extensive network of canals, dams and reservoirs, the Cutzamala system. Persistent drought, exacerbated by climate change, and El Niño have pushed the system to record lows.

Neighborhoods not connected to the system are feeling the high temperatures and delayed water deliveries by trucks. Laundromats have been without water for weeks and shortages have even hit restaurants and businesses in affluent neighborhoods like Polanco, dubbed the “Beverly Hills of Mexico.”

In Xochimilco, in the south of the city, Ana Maria Sandoval worries about how much worse the water shortages will become and what her ten-year-old grandson will one day face as a result of climate change.

But she has some hope for Sheinbaum, who belongs to López Obrador’s Morena party.

“I think she’s going to do something,” Sandoval said. “I’m going to vote for her to see if she perseveres and at least helps us store rainwater.”


Under López Obrador, Mexico has prioritized fossil fuel production in a quest to nationalize energy generation in a country still heavily dependent on fuel imports. This is exemplified by its flagship – still not operational – Olmeca oil refinery, located just 80 kilometers west of the largely disappeared town of El Bosque in Tabasco.

López Obrador’s government also bought a refinery in Texas and passed legislation — which Mexico’s Supreme Court recently partially struck down — to limit how much electricity private gas and renewable energy facilities can sell. Policy would have favored the state energy company over private energy companies.

When confronted with his government’s environmental record, López Obrador has pointed to hydropower plants that have been renovated, his oft-questioned reforestation program and a solar energy project in Sonora state, among other things.

At a climate summit at the White House last year, López Obrador summed up his administration’s efforts to tackle climate change, telling world leaders that “next year we will fulfill the promise to produce more clean and renewable energy in our country .”

Yet scientists from Climate Action Tracker, a group that scrutinizes countries’ pledges to reduce emissions, have criticized Mexico’s retreat from its already modest climate targets, downgrading its rating for 2021 and 2022 to “critically insufficient”, the lowest level.


Sheinbaum has said she supports the president’s goal of keeping 54% of Mexico’s electricity generation under state control, a vision that effectively pushes aside more renewable energy production in favor of dirtier fuels.

But there are also some indications that Sheinbaum could take a more science-driven approach than her predecessor. Many point to her actions as mayor of Mexico City during the coronavirus pandemic for clues.

As mayor, Sheinbaum emphasized mask-wearing, testing and vaccination, while López Obrador often minimized the dangers of the virus that has ravaged Mexico.

Decades earlier, Sheinbaum worked on plans to measure air pollution in Mexico City. As mayor, she strengthened the city’s public electromobility and cycling infrastructure and started a large solar energy park on the roofs of a major wholesale market.

On water, Sheinbaum has repeatedly said Mexico needs a 30-year plan, an idea she reiterated during the campaign. She recently laid out a plan in which she said her government would prioritize better measuring Mexico’s water use across all sectors, especially agriculture, which uses the vast majority of the country’s water. But the plan provided few details on how her government would do that.

In Iztapalapa, a neighborhood of Mexico City with nearly 2 million residents, Juana Acosta and Jose Luis Perez recently waited 15 days, a week longer than normal, for a water delivery. Residents of the poor, densely populated neighborhood are not new to water problems, but residents like Acosta say the problems are getting worse. She has complained about longer wait times and stricter rationing, largely due to shortages and increased demand.

“They didn’t leave us without water for that long,” Acosta said.


Naishadham reported from Washington, DC


The Associated Press’ climate and environmental reporting receives funding from several private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find APs standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas AP.org.

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