Latin America | May 29, 2024

Mexico chooses a new president amid extreme heat – and little urgency on climate action

Jessica Pothering
ImpactAlpha Editor

Jessica Pothering

Mexico’s vote on Sunday will grab headlines for the election of the country’s first female president. 

Less prominent will be the climate crises facing the country, even amid raging wildfires, extreme heat, and a water crisis in the country’s largest city.

Neither Claudia Sheinbaum of the center-left governing party, nor Xóchitl Gálvez of the center-right opposition party, have made climate policy plans and ambitions central to the campaign. For that matter, neither has the candidate who is in third-place in the polls, Jorge Álvarez Máynez of the Citizen’s Movement. 

Mexico counts as a laggard on climate action in both Latin America and the G20 group of large economies (Mexico has the 12th-largest economy in the world and second-largest in Latin America, behind Brazil). Climate Action Tracker ranks Mexico’s climate policies and goals as “critically insufficient.”

Mexico’s political context and history mean climate politics are the reverse of those typical of the US and other countries. It is Gálvez, of the center-right alliance Fuerza y Corazon por México, who is the only one of Mexico’s three major presidential contenders to set a net-zero target: 2050.

As the leading candidate, Sheinbaum has sent conflicting messages about her climate priorities. Her 2030 plan makes no mention of a net-zero target. Building new gas-burning power plants is also in the mix for her energy spending plan.

The tell may be her support for Pemex, the state-owned oil company and longtime political power center. Sheinbaum has proposed that Pemex diversify revenue streams, into lithium, geothermal and renewable energy, doubling-down on the oil giant rather than efforts to draw in private investors or even other government agencies.

“The pattern that I see is that governments that tend to consolidate and monopolize industries end up not innovating at all,” laments Rogelio de los Santos of Monterrey-based impact investment firm Dalus Capital. 

Global voting 

Mexican politicians are not unique in neglecting to rally their electorates about climate change and the climate policies at stake.

In India, the world’s largest election, ending Saturday, has taken place over six weeks of intense heat. In Churu, Rajasthan, the temperature on Tuesday hit 50.5 degrees Celsius, or 122.9 degrees Fahrenheit. Climate change has been a negligible topic in candidates’ discussions. 

In South Africa, none of the top three parties have prioritized climate action, despite a water crisis, recent extreme floods, and a costly and protracted energy crisis. The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, is expected to lose its majority for the first time in 30 years in today’s vote. How the ANC constructs a coalition could determine the course of South Africa’s climate action and other key issues. 

National elections are taking place this year in 64 countries, as well as the European Union, covering half of the world’s population. Most will touch people who are highly vulnerable to climate change.

That includes the US, where the November presidential election represents a crucial test for the country’s belated mobilization around decarbonization and the energy transition. 

“This super election year is as much an opportunity as it is a risk for climate action,” wrote Net Zero Tracker’s Thomas Hale in an op-ed.

India, the world’s third largest polluter, has set a net-zero goal, albeit for 2070. South Africa, ranked No. 19 among global greenhouse gas emitters, is aiming for net zero by 2050.

Mexico has yet to set a net-zero goal. In his six-year term, the leftist current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has leaned into fossil fuels proliferation rather than renewables in the name of Mexico’s energy independence

Obrador, commonly known as AMLO, has thrown the state’s weight and finances behind the heavily-indebted state-run oil company Pemex and the development and expansion of oil refineries. 

“If someone with no interest in climate change comes to power, we would disdain and discard any commitment that Mexico has made and we will hardly be able to get on the path to compliance,” Sandra Guzmán of the Climate Finance Group for Latin America and the Caribbean told Carbon Brief. “This is the most important six-year period to achieve climate goals.”


On paper, Sheinbaum, the clear frontrunner, has an almost ideal resume for putting Mexico on a more ambitious climate path. 

AMLO’s successor and protege, Sheinbaum is an environmental engineer and one of the co-authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that won the Nobel Peace Prize. 

She has framed several climate-related strategies, mostly focused on the energy transition. Her campaign platform calls for “decarbonizing the energy matrix as quickly as possible.” She favors generating half of Mexico’s energy needs from renewable sources by 2030, which would be the end of her presidential term, if elected. 

Last month, Sheinbaum announced a plan to spend $13.6 billion on new energy capacity by developing wind and solar power, adding new transmission lines and investing in hydroelectric generation. 

Dalus’ de los Santos is pessimistic that Sheinbaum will move aggressively on climate action. “If the current administration’s party goes into office for another six years, I don’t think there will be much deviation [from current policies], even though Sheinbaum seems to be more open on climate topics,” he says. 

Dalus, which invests in Latin America’s early-stage climate startups as one of its impact themes, has championed the region’s climate opportunities. De los Santos sees a correlation between stronger innovation ecosystems in the region and government support for innovation for climate action. 

“We are very positively surprised with actions that have been taken in Costa Rica, in Colombia, to some extent in Chile, and Paraguay,” he tells ImpactAlpha. “In these countries we see firm commitment to supporting the private sector, innovation, early-stage investment, and very, very firm commitments and institutional efforts to mitigate or reduce carbon and adapt to climate change.”

Conservation policy

Sheinbaum has also drawn criticism for backing AMLO’s 1,500-kilometer Tren Maya railroad development, which would destroy forest and cave ecosystems and cut through Indigenous communities on the Yucatán Peninsula. 

Environmental conservation and climate adaptation have been largely absent from Sheinbaum’s platform. 

Gálvez, second in the presidential running, has been more outspoken on environmental issues. Gálvez, whose family is from the Indigenous Otomi community of central Mexico, leads a center-right party coalition of the National Action Party (PAN), the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). Her campaign platform calls for inclusion of biodiversity rights and protections in Mexico’s constitution. She calls for dedicated funding for areas vulnerable to or recovering from natural disasters. And she has stressed environmental concerns over the Tren Maya railway development.

Gálvez’s plans for reaching net zero emissions by 2050 involves investing in Mexico’s biodiversity and natural resources conservation. She mentions tapping the carbon markets and green bonds market to finance such initiatives. Another focus of her campaign is addressing Mexico’s water crisis by modernizing national water infrastructure. 

Gálvez is more private-sector leaning across her platform. For the energy transition, she proposes more private sector engagement in renewable energy development and shutting down several state-run oil refineries.