Mexico Doesn’t Have the Luxury of Being a Climate Pariah

After a four-year hiatus imposed by guidelines from President Donald Trump, the United States has returned to the negotiation table regarding climate change and the multilateral action needed to slow global warming.

On Jan. 27, President Joe Biden signed a series of executive orders putting the U.S. back on course, making climate change a central theme of foreign policy and national security, in addition to promising that the energy sector will be carbon free by 2035. Furthermore, he placed a hold on awarding new permits to explore federal lands for oil, while also ordering the elimination of all subsidies for fossil fuels that are not protected by law and initiating a path to double the production of wind energy by 2030.

The previous week, in the context of his inauguration, the president sent a letter to the U.N. to request the reinstatement of his country into the Paris climate agreement, recognizing “each of the articles and clauses” of that agreement.

This reemergence of Washington as a key player against climate change carries a challenge for Mexico, which, during the government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has distanced itself from that agenda and runs in the opposite direction of developing clean energy. It will not be long before the divide that exists between the new U.S. government and Mexico’s government regarding energy and environmental matters becomes evident.

Five days before Trump left the White House, three of his cabinet members — the secretaries of state, commerce and energy — had addressed a letter to López Obrador expressing disapproval of his favoritism toward state-owned companies Petróleos Mexicanos and the Federal Electricity Commission over U.S. companies that had invested millions of dollars in Mexico since that country opened its energy sector. The complaint involved, above all, issues of economic competition. However, decisions by the Mexican government in this area — reaffirmed now in the initiative to reform the Electrical Industry Act — also have given preference to fossil fuels over renewable energy sources.

It is not surprising that U.S. discomfort over the legal insecurity and the deterioration of the business climate in Mexico continues in spite of the change in government. (Democrats and Republicans do not argue when it comes to defending their country’s economic interests.) But now, in addition, the White House and the U.S. Congress — dominated by the Democrats — will have Mexico under a magnifying glass for its environmental policies because Washington will not be comfortable with its principal business partner being seen as a climate pariah, one that does not hesitate to burn carbon in order to generate electricity while much of the world progresses toward adopting clean energy.

In the first three weeks of Biden’s government, U.S. foreign policy has not been timid. Secretary of State Antony Blinken — who trained alongside the current president on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — has confirmed his reputation for toughness. There is no reason to expect special consideration on issues that matter to the United States, such as human rights and the environment.

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