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Mexico’s Congress Finds Consensus on Climate Change

April 25, 2012

The Mexican legislature passed an ambitious climate change law on April 19, making carbon dioxide emission and renewable energy targets legally binding. Called the Ley General de Cambio Climático, or Climate Change Law, the bill passed the Senate in a unanimous vote and awaits President Felipe Calderón’s signature. Spurred in part by one of the worst droughts in the country’s recent history, the law comes in the run up to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June and the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol in December. At a time when countries struggle to find international consensus on binding emissions targets, Mexico “made one of the boldest commitments of any nation to limit climate change,” says Nature. However, the country could face challenges to fund and implement the law.

The law requires Mexico to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2020 and by 50 percent of 2000 emissions levels in 2050. Mexico must increase renewable sources to 35 percent of the country’s total energy matrix by 2024, and government agencies must use renewable energy. The bill also calls for the creation of a National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change—a commission to implement the law, lead environmental research, and report on emissions levels. The law also establishes a carbon-trading market to provide financial incentives to reduce emissions. Mexico is only the second country in the world—along with the United Kingdom—to make carbon dioxide targets legally binding. Moreover, the law is significant since Mexico is one of the largest sources of global carbon dioxide emissions: between 2009 and 2012, the country was the tenth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide.

Environmentalists cheered the passage of the bill, which saw opposition from several industrial and construction interests. However, the legislation met with an unusual level of consensus, given the unanimous vote in the Senate and only 10 votes against the bill in Congress’s lower house. Some see the need for the law as being more than just environmental. "I personally think this climate change topic should be an economic and energy issue, not an ecological issue," Congressman Rubio Barthell told the BBC. Persistent drought in Mexico has wrought over $1 billion in agricultural losses, and environmental damage costs Mexico an estimated $90 billion a year, nearly 8 percent of its GDP. 

Still, challenges remain. Funding for plans in the law are based on international financing from the UN Climate Convention and the Green Climate Fund, which seeks financing from wealthier countries to curb climate change in developing countries. The Fund is slated to begin operating in 2013, and Mexico could require up to $100 billion a year to reach its targets. New institutions to enforce the law could also face an uphill battle. Juan Bezaury, a Mexican environmental policy expert, pointed out this issue, saying: “Mexico is very good at making laws. The problem is enforcing them.”

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