Analysis: Can Sheinbaum from Mexico, a climate researcher, break Lopez Obrador’s oil legacy?

MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s newly elected President, Claudia Sheinbaum is an accomplished climate scientist who may struggle to keep her environmental promises after she won the election, partly due to the popularity of a previous president who pushed for fossil fuels.

Sheinbaum was elected Mexico’s first female president with a large majority on Sunday. She inherits a nation that is constantly battling climate change and environmental issues: a pervasive and widespread drought, a water shortage in Mexico City and rampant deforestation.

Leftist leader 61 years old, who was a member of the United Nations panel of scientists on climate change that won a Nobel Peace Prize for their work in 2007, spoke about her belief in a scientific and academic approach to politics. She ran on a promise to increase renewable energy to 50% in the oil producing country by 2030.

Sheinbaum, despite having the best of intentions to improve Mexico’s environmental record, her mentor, Andres Manuel Obrador (the popular and incoming President), spent billions on supporting Mexico’s fossil fuel dependent state energy giants: oil company Pemex, and CFE, a power utility.

Mariana Campero is a senior associate at the CSIS Americas Program. She said that her overwhelming victory, and the possible super majority in Congress won by the ruling alliance, are in many ways a vote on Lopez Obrador’s policies and initiatives.

Sheinbaum may be hesitant to deviate from Lopez Obrador’s style, as she could lose support. This would limit her ability to prioritise climate change policies.

Campero said, “She has repeatedly said that she will follow his policies and her government will be continuation of his.” “But she’s always stressed the importance of green energy.” How will she square this circle?

Green at heart?

Sheinbaum credits her father, a chemical engineering engineer, and mother a cellular biologist with cultivating her interest in politics and science. She holds a PhD in energy engineering from Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

She installed a rooftop solar project in a central market that is busy and opened a 100%-electric bus line.

She was criticized for certain projects, such as the construction of a Xochimilco eco-zone bridge that locals claimed damaged wetlands. She also supports Lopez Obrador’s most controversial project, the Mayan Train. Scientists and activists have criticized the tourist railway for threatening pristine wilderness, and ancient cave systems under the jungle floor.

Her rise to presidency has still fueled hopes among some that her policies on climate change could be improved. According to the Climate Change Performance Index the country’s record deteriorated during Lopez Obrador’s tenure, due in large part to increased subsidies for fossil-fuels and poor progress to curb deforestation.

Arthur Deakin is the director of America’s Market Intelligence, a consultancy that specializes in energy. He said: “I think she definitely has the will and the intention to get Mexico back to net-zero and into the good graces with the international community.”

THE PEMEX PROBLEM

Sheinbaum pledged to increase wind and solar power as part of an investment of $13.57 billion in new energy projects. She faces the largest budget deficit since decades left by Lopez Obrador. This will force her choose where to spend.

Pemex, the most indebted company in the world, is still a major contributor in state coffers. This was said by Alejandra Lopez a consultant in public policy who specializes on energy issues.

It is not only a major emitter of greenhouse gasses, but also a national symbol for energy sovereignty, especially to many Mexicans including Lopez Obrador.

Lopez stated that Pemex creates an “emotional and historical” sense of importance in the country.

Sheinbaum, who is vocal in her belief in the role played by the state in Mexico’s energy sector, which has been dominated for decades by Pemex could find it difficult to keep the promise she made to increase renewable energy.

Deakin stated that a business-savvy approach would enable her to attract investments and spur realistic changes towards decarbonizing energy and transport sectors.

Sheinbaum might start by raising the limit on Distributed Generation projects. These are usually small, privately-funded wind or solar farms built to provide energy to a particular factory or industrial site.

Deakin stated that increasing the limit from 0.5 to 5 megawatts could provide cleaner electricity for industrial and commercial users. She could increase electric vehicle subsidies and charging infrastructure, and introduce biofuel policies. A national carbon credit framework can help to accelerate interest in low-carbon initiatives.

Deakin explained that “it’s harder to do when your budget is more restricted, but there are other ways emerging markets can create an environment more conducive to renewable electricity.”

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