The recent climate announcement made by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at a virtual forum together with his US counterpart, Joe Biden, are more important than they may appear at first glance. Yes, there is much work to do to move forward ambitiously with an energy transition away from fossil fuels. And yes, this administration has largely ignored environmental issues, to put it politely, ever since it took office – much to the chagrin of those on the “left” that voted for Morena. That said, AMLO’s willingness to commit to 10 specific points involving renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions represents a step in the right direction.
To date progress toward meeting international climate commitments simply has not been a priority of the AMLO government. Mexico has not refused to sign agreements, on the contrary, the country joined the Global Methane Pledge at COP26, for example. What has been notably absent has been progress on implementation. Now that the President seems to be on board, that political box has been checked and the substantive scientific and technical work can begin. Moving forward will require continued pressure from both civil society and Mexico’s international partners – the US government chief among them – but at least there are now some more concrete objectives to point to.
Beyond this being good news for the environment, it is also positive for the US-Mexico bilateral relationship and a victory for the concept of a North American agenda beyond the thorny issues of immigration and security. After several private conversations and another visit from John Kerry – he has been to Mexico more often than Coldplay – the country at long last has committed to moving forward.
The second point outlined by AMLO as part of Mexico’s climate agenda is a commitment to reduce Pemex’s methane emissions by 98%. This is tricky because recent scientific studies show that emissions are much higher than reported, and while methane emissions are underreported globally, Mexico’s challenges seem to be of a larger magnitude, close to double. Nevertheless, this is important because allowing methane to escape into the atmosphere is both foolish from an energy efficiency and an environmental perspective.
Satellite technology is required to pinpoint where the methane emissions are coming from and recent studies provide important guidance. Capturing the methane released from the Nuevo Pemex plant alone would be enough to supply 50% of Mexico’s household demand for natural gas. This is an argument that was surely not lost on AMLO. If Mexico reduces emissions the country will be able to rely less on natural gas imports from the US, boosting – even if marginally – its energy security.
How hard is it to capture methane? The technology exists and is cost-effective, paying for itself within a matter of a few years.
The worrisome situation in Europe related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine is another reason why wasting natural gas is a bad idea; European allies will be thinking creatively about how to find new sources of energy as a result of the embargo on Russia and that factor is surely on the minds of politicians in Washington, DC and another probable motive behind pushing Mexico to up its game.
While there is a dearth of silver linings globally, proactive bilateral cooperation between Mexico and the US appears to be moving in a positive direction, despite the drama that surrounded AMLO’s decision not to attend the Summit of the Americas. When AMLO meets with Biden in July in Washington, DC their discussions will be focused on how to protect their economies from inflationary pressures and a more severe economic downturn. It is good to see proactive planning taking place between neighbors to ensure both the health of the environment and that of the regional economy.
* Amy Glover is president of Agil(e) and Co-Chair of 5050 Women on Boards in Mexico. Twitter: @chilangagringa