What Mexico’s climate goals mean for the energy sector

As the first emerging economy, Mexico presented its INDCs for the COP21 in Paris earlier this year. Lillian Sol Cueva summarizes the good, the bad and the ugly.

Smog over Mexico City

Stricter climate goals should also help to cut back on Mexico City’s endemic air pollution. (Photo by arndw, CC BY 2.0)


In preparation to the international climate negotiations in Paris later this year, countries are asked to submit their climate contributions (INDCs) outlining what mitigation and adaptation actions they intend to take post 2020. On March 28, Mexico – as the first emerging economy to do so – presented its INDC.

Mexico has set itself an unconditional goal of reducing its greenhouse gases and black carbon by 25 percent by 2030, and a conditional reduction goal (which is subject to the international carbon price, technical cooperation, access to low-interest finance and technology transfer) of 40 percent for the same period. In addition, it has set itself an adaptation goal, which will strengthen Mexico’s climate resilience to cover at least 50 percent of municipalities currently classified as “vulnerable to climate change”. Moreover, the adaptation goals call for a better early warning system and risk management when it comes to climate change, as well as an end to deforestation by 2030.

In Mexico, the energy sector produces almost 20 percent of the national carbon emissions (174 mTCO2e) and 7 percent of black carbon (8 thousand tons). The emissions trajectory outlined by the Mexican government looks as follows: clean energy generation will constitute 35 percent of total energy consumption by 2024 and 43 percent by 2030; currently it represents 19 percent. Clean energy, according to the Mexican government, includes wind, solar, biomass and nuclear, efficient combined heat and power, and thermoelectric plants with carbon capture and storage. In addition, the government plans to increasingly substitute heavy fuels, largely with natural gas.

Besides setting clear renewables goals, Mexico’s climate goals have the following repercussions (positive and negative) for the country’s energy transition:

Positive aspects:

  • There is a variety of technologies listed in its energy goals. Mexico has rightly recognized that it needs to diversify its energy supply from fossil fuels if it is to reach its climate goals. The goal by the Mexican government is to diversify its energy mix with renewables and natural gas.
  • They are coherent with national legislation. Mexico’s climate goals are coherent with the Law for the Use of Renewable Energy and Financing of Energetic Transition (LAERFTE) which calls for a reduction in fossil fuels in the energy sector from currently 85 to 50 percent by 2050.
  • They include mentions of human rights and gender equality. Of all climate goals submitted so far, Mexico and Morocco are the only countries that have included considerations of human rights and gender equality. According to the INDC, these considerations are important “in order for the measures to be implemented to take into account women as important decision makers regarding energy consumption.”

Negative aspects:

  • Nuclear is still included as a “clean energy” source. According to the LAERFTE, nuclear energy is part of what the Mexican government calls a “clean energy source”, yet it makes no mention of the real costs of new nuclear vs. new renewables. The costs for renewables have decreased rapidly over the last couple of years, and they are now much cheaper than nuclear power. Mexico needs to refrain from referring to nuclear power as a clean energy source by which to mitigate carbon emissions.
  • Black carbon commitment – good or bad? Mexico has demonstrated an innovative approach to limit its black carbon. However, there are serious doubts about the actual climate benefits this would have. According to Climate Action Tracker, “there is no established scientific method to compare the climate benefits of black-carbon reductions to those of carbon and other greenhouse gases […] The IPCC has not provided calculations of global warming potential for black carbon in its most recent Fifth Assessment Report […]”. In particular for the energy sector, it is important that a black carbon emissions goal would not be considered as priority since it represents just 7 percent of total black carbon emissions. Hence, all efforts in energy should be related to greenhouse gas reductions.
  • Natural gas is seen as a key solution to the climate challenge. In recent years, Mexico has been promoting natural gas as major source by which to cut national carbon emissions. However, little emphasis is put on associated methane leaks, a highly potent greenhouse gas, and the huge amount of water needed for this particular practice.
  • Lack of coherence within mitigation and adaptation goals. Since Mexico has included adaptation goals in its INDC it is important that all actions are coherent. For example, taking into consideration that water is a key sector for adaptation, it is important to exclude all the technologies that do not use water efficiently from the mitigation measures (i.e. fracking, mining, etc.)

Lillian Sol Cueva is a Mexican citizen and holds a degree in International Relations from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a master’s degree in Humanitarian Action from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her professional experience includes work in public policy, human and womens rights, sustainable development, energy and climate change. She has gained professional experience as a researcher, project coordinator, volunteer and public official in several national and international NGOs, as well as the Mexican government.

by

Lillian Sol Cueva

Lillian Sol Cueva is a Mexican citizen and holds a degree in International Relations from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a master’s degree in Humanitarian Action from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. Her professional experience includes work in public policy, human and womens rights, sustainable development, energy and climate change. She has gained professional experience as a researcher, project coordinator, volunteer and public official in several national and international NGOs, as well as the Mexican government.

1 Comment

  1. John says

    Why is nuclear always seen as a negative? It is virtually carbon free. I completely agree w/ author that building a new nuclear plant isn’t nearly as cost effective as Solar / wind; however, running existing plants is cheap. If we really want a practical solution to climate change, we must not let perfect be the enemy of good.

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