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Will Mexico’s climate change leadership continue to grow during election season?

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Mexico has massive potential to become a global leader in the fight against climate change. In 2018 however, the country’s efforts will be greatly affected by the year-long general election cycle.

To gain a better understanding of what to expect from Mexico’s climate change agenda in the coming year we must analyse the current political context on three levels – systemic, individual and international.  From this we can see where opportunities for Mexico’s continued climate change leadership lie.

Mexico has been an earlier adopter of many climate change policies. It was the second country in the world -after the UK- to issue its Climate Change Law (2012). In 2015 Mexico was the first developing country to present its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). That same year Mexico  also passed its Energy Transition Law. These actions, among others, immediately increased the country’s access to international climate change finance.

December 2017’s One Planet Summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron proved a success, securing large-scale commitments from businesses and financial institutions to speed up the transition to a low carbon economy. With political will for tackling climate change growing around the world, many eyes will be on Mexico’s 2018 general election – and the level of climate change ambition proposed by the different candidates.

Spanning the entire year, Mexico has one of the longest electoral periods in the world. As such, 2018 offers the opportunity to look at climate change from a political as well as civil society perspective and begin to work out what might be expected from the new administration.

In order to better understand Mexico’s political and electoral context, we offer a multi-level analysis, covering the political and civil spaces affecting climate change decisions - systemic, individual, and international. From this,  we can better understand how climate change policy can be strengthened in Mexico, and in doing so Mexico’s international leadership on this issue can also be strengthened.

Systemic Analysis- Electoral Cycle

The Mexican President is the head of the Executive branch, serving a six-year term without the possibility of re-election. The president tends to be very active in crafting public policy early in the term - sometimes to legitimize and strengthen their position in a recent election- but becomes less active in their final year in office.

No major climate-related law has been issued during the last year of a presidency.

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s final year in 2018 seems unlikely to change this trend.

From the beginning of the electoral year in January until elections in the summer, the bureaucratic body of the executive and legislative branches, will be focused on preparing reports, the upcoming elections, campaigning, and building coalitions. After the elections, the entire political system turns its focus to the five-six month transition period. The new administration comes into power in December, leaving no time for making policy during the entire electoral year.

Individual level

In Mexico, as in many countries in Latin America, power is concentrated among a small number of decision makers. While high-level politicians rely heavily on their teams, they are rarely contradicted, acting more based on their own beliefs than as executors of the public will. Fortunately, in many cases public will and personal beliefs are in line, but not always- meaning political priorities don’t necessarily reflect the will of the people. Some policies may solely come out of the interaction of high-level actors.

For example, during his mandate as President, Felipe Calderon pushed for climate change policy based on a personal commitment to the issue and to strengthen his legitimacy after a close election result.  Conversely, the current Ministry of Finance has been hands off despite the necessity to finance climate change efforts in Mexico. Because of the relative power of individual political leaders, the climate change agenda can be adversely affected if a President takes office who is not committed to the issue.  To command active involvement in the government, it becomes increasingly important that the upper levels of the finance ministry understand this and can work to influence these powerful individuals.

Cabinet members of the upcoming government must also take time during 2018 to understand how climate change will impact their new mandates and identify the key players they need to get on-side.

International level

The international context is also relevant to Mexico’s domestic politics.  Mexico’s commitments to Green House Gas (GHG) reductions have proven an important driver for internal policies and regulations. When the country set its own Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) and passed the General Law of Climate Change it attracted huge amounts of interest from climate finance donors. Enforcing and enacting existing regulations and standards would send a strong signal that Mexico is still acting on climate change and is thus a responsible partner deserving additional support from donors.

This virtuous cycle of action begetting international money means more action can to be taken, keeping momentum up during 2018.

The energy reform process in Mexico has also opened the doors to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Mexico’s fossil and clean energy sectors. It is yet to be seen if foreign investments in oil and gas will dictate priorities and shape campaign promises that will impact future FDI in the energy sector.

Opportunities for the Mexican Climate Agenda in 2018

An election year offers a great moment to establish the case for strengthened climate action. While campaign priorities generally focus on security, economy and employment, these are all affected by climate change. The  issue should thus resonate with politicians and voters.

High-level incoming politicians who get an earful about climate from voters, or relate to the issue on a personal level, will be more likely to prioritize the topic on their agenda and so it will be important that civil society keep up the pressure on this issue. 2018 will also be an excellent moment for campaigners to establish a more technical conversation with mid-level officials on what actions Mexico could take next, as it is these officials that will bring continuity and implement policies in the future. Civil society organizations should use campaign season to push climate up the agenda, and bridge the divide between what the country has already learned with what still needs to be done by the incoming government.

Finally, recent flows of FDI in clean energy provide a strong signal to government that it should continue to enhance its support of the sector. This in turn would help foreign governments, investors and international aid agencies to continue supporting the country’s efforts to reduce its GHG emissions and implement mitigation and adaptation policies.

What is abundantly clear is that 2018 provides a unique opportunity for Mexico to reflect on its climate progress so far and on what must be done to raise the bar in the years to come. Mexico’s climate leadership depends on it.