In the run up to the Madrid-based COP25 international climate talks set to begin in early December, former Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Energy and Environment program, Rebecca Bertram, conducted a series of interviews with Latin American officials and activists. In Part 2 of the series, Bertram meets with Anaid Velasco, human rights lawyer at the Mexican Center for Environmental Rights (CEMDA) asking about how climate change is impacting her country and discussing the needs to include human rights in the international climate negotiations.
Failing to Act: Human rights – an essential part of international climate negotiations
Mexico is globally the 12th biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions and the largest polluter in Latin America. 80% of its population of 127 million live in cities. Climate change has dramatically impacted the nation’s transportation, water and power infrastructure. Hard hit rural areas are increasingly affected by temper ature rise and irregular rainfall—reducing the country’s agricultural output, Mexico’s third most important economic sector.
Though Mexico has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent by 2030 (and up to 36 percent with international support), its current government is seemingly doing little to reach this goal.
Rebecca Bertram (RB): What are some of the climate crisis’ major threats to Mexican society?
Anaid Velasco (AV): I believe there are two threats that we are facing. First, many policy makers are still unconvinced that climate change is manmade. Our current government – unlike previous governments – is not putting the necessary importance to climate change as it deserves. Within our Ministry of Environment, there exists a general will to develop climate policy but this is sidelined by political priorities at the top which are inconsistent with policies towards our industrial sector, especially the energy sector. Here, we are seeing an increasing number of fossil energy projects being approved.
Secondly, we are facing an increasing number of social and environmental conflicts when it comes to climate change. For example, there have been a number of direct human rights violations in renewable energy projects throughout the country, where people are denied access to their land. Our indigenous population in particular is badly affected. This is not a new development but one that we have been unable to resolve due to the lack of a legal framework in which we can administer these conflicts.
RB: So if much of the political class is not fully aware of the challenges posed by climate change, what about the general public?
AV: Everything that I have learnt about climate change is through my own personal efforts. Learning about climate change is not yet part of our educational system. However, I do think that younger Mexicans are a little more engaged with the issue, driven in part by their interaction on social media. Of course when your livelihood depends on agricultural production and you are faced with droughts and irregular rainfalls, you will be aware that something is changing. But it is unlikely that you will put the changing weather locally patterns and global climate change together.
RB: Mexico has itself set a goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent by 2030. Is the current Mexican government on track to meet this goal?
AV: I am worried that under the current government, we will miss our pledged climate goals. The energy sector, which is responsible for approximately 70 percent of our national emissions, is making this especially difficult.
RB: You are referring to governance problems on the national level. What about on the subnational, state or municipal levels?
AV: Their capacities to act, especially on mitigation and energy policy, are limited as these are both formulated at the national level. So the focus on the subnational level is more on adaptation. For example, we are seeing some municipalities around the country that are imposing new regulations for clean transportation and creating better conditions for renewable energies. We also, however, see many municipalities completely disregarding climate policy. So there is no conformity on the issue throughout the country.
RB: If the level of policy involvement depends largely on how much each municipality is affected by climate change, what about the capital, Mexico City?
AV: Mexico City is facing a growing water problem and is aware of it. The aim is to diversify the sources of fresh water for the city and to have water integrated into a circular economy. Especially the “grey water” that comes from households, baths, sinks, dishwasher and washing machines. Grey water generally only requires a simple treatment and can be reused for a variety of causes. These efforts are still in their infancy, but show how the city is seriously thinking about adapting to climate change.
RB: Are there specific challenges in winning the support of indigenous groups for climate protection?
AV: Mexico is a multicultural country with more than 50 different indigenous groups. Our law gives these indigenous groups preferential rights to their natural resources and territory. In theory, these rights postulate that indigenous communities form part of a free and informed consultation process before any infrastructure project is approved. In practice, however, these consultations have not been implemented, largely because authorities lack the knowledge of how to organize them.
RB: Is there also a concern that these rights don’t provide enough protection against the weight of big industrial wind park interests?
AV: Yes, that is a concern. Ten years ago, a wind park constructed in Juchitan made the news because the results of negotiations between the indigenous groups and the company building the wind park was to impose minimal rents of the land and human rights violations. Given this disastrous outcome, new laws were put in place to include social impact studies on all new fossil fuel or renewable energy projects in the country. The big legal question today is how to agree on a standardized protocol for these consultation processes.
RB: As negotiations begin in Madrid, what hopes do you have for the COP25?
AV: I would like to see a more ambitious Mexican climate position. But that is highly unlikely under the current government. Most of all, I would like to see that the COP25 finds a way by which climate change is legally linked to human rights. So far, human rights are only mentioned once in the preamble of the Paris climate agreement. That is certainly not enough. Being a human rights lawyer, I believe that we need to have the link clearly stated in the international law documents that in turn will make it easier for us to implement these measures on the national and local levels.
Obrador’s policy in energy is a tragic mistake. It seems to be driven by an old-fashioned statist belief in big monopoly providers, manned by unionised elite workers (typically men). In this one sector, neoliberal fanatics (Chile) and populist crooks (Brazil) have a better record.