Consistent U.S. pressure may have finally convinced the Mexican president to express his support for the transition to renewable energies, but the private sector still isn’t invited.
MEXICO CITY (CN) — After spending three years largely shunning renewable energies and working to expand fossil fuel production in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador appears to have made an about face in his public stance on the energy transition.
“It is very important to use energy resources well and take care of them, and to not abandon the energy transition, so that we don’t continue to depend on petroleum,” he said in his morning press conference Thursday.
“We have to think about alternative energy sources,” he added, giving the example of a solar plant in the northern state of Sonora which started going up in May.
“Facing the shared challenges of climate change, we resolve to promote a business environment that advances a greener, cleaner North America, acknowledging the importance of investing in and promoting renewable sources of energy,” the leaders said in their statement.
Despite the declarations in the joint statement, López Obrador’s endorsement of the transition to renewables still came as a surprise to those who have followed his rhetoric and energy policy during the first half of his term.
“When it comes to renewables, López Obrador has maintained a good guy-bad guy narrative, and the enemy is always the foreign industry,” said Pablo Ramírez, an energy and climate change specialist with Greenpeace Mexico.
“And to do this, he has gone after private companies, but not all of them,” said Ramírez. “He hasn’t even touched gas companies. He has encouraged things like the creation of more contracts, plants and ducts in that sector. So it’s not all private companies he’s after. It’s private renewable energy companies.”
López Obrador’s change of heart likely didn’t happen overnight after his visit with Biden, but was probably the result of consistent pressure from the United States, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne.
“Hopefully it reflects his series of meetings with Special Envoy for Climate [John] Kerry, Energy Secretary [Jennifer] Granholm and others over a series of months, that have tried to emphasize the importance both of climate and of this transition to greener energy,” Wayne said in an online conference hosted by the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies and the Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.
“I think he has accepted that yes, this is going to happen and yes, we need to reflect that in our energy policies,” said Wayne, who added that López Obrador gave very few specifics on how that transition will take place beyond one stipulation that is characteristic of his administration.
“He made made quite clear that if you want to participate in renewable energy, you have to cooperate with either the national electricity authority or the energy ministry,” said Wayne. “It’s not like the private sector can go out and do this, and so there’s still a lot of worry on the part of the private sector companies who have investment there.”
López Obrador has attempted to centralize control of Mexico’s energy sector via contentious reforms that have faced fierce opposition in the courts and federal legislature. The Supreme Court in April failed to reach the supermajority needed to rule his electricity reform unconstitutional.
The reform in effect creates a monopsony in Mexico’s electricity market by giving first purchasing rights to all electricity generated in the country to the Federal Electricity Commission.
“AMLO seems to remain to be committed that there should be a leading role by national authorities, the national energy companies,” said Wayne, using the using the colloquial acronym by which López Obrador is known in Mexico.
Other efforts to meet goals on climate solutions mentioned in the joint statement issued by the White House include a collaboration between the U.S. government and Mexico’s state-run oil company Pemex to reduce routine flaring and venting of methane in both onshore and offshore oil and gas operations.
Also in the works is “the development of southern Mexico, with its vast human potential and important opportunities for commerce, conservation, and clean energy,” according to the statement.
“Hopefully this is a change,” said Wayne. “The proof’s just going to have to be in what actually happens on the ground in the months ahead.”
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