Mexico was once a climate leader – now it’s betting big on coal | Mexico

The males on the midnight shift smoked cigarettes and cracked jokes within the glow of their helmet lights as they ready to go underground. They had been loading security tools and coils of pipe onto wheelbarrows, in readiness for a second shift as a result of begin working later that week.

“We’re reactivating the trade,” stated Arturo Rivera Wong, who had simply taken on 40 extra staff on the mine he owns within the scrublands of the border state of Coahuila.

“4 furnaces on the big thermoelectric plant are going to be reactivated,” he defined. “That is going to kickstart coal gross sales.”

Because the climate disaster worsens and clear power costs plunge, governments world wide have been weaning their economies of coal and different fossil fuels.

Mexico is transferring in the wrong way.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, popularly generally known as Amlo, has unveiled plans to purchase practically 2m tons of thermal coal from small producers like Rivera. He additionally plans to reactivate a pair of coal-fired crops on the Texas border, which had been being wound down as pure fuel and renewables took a extra distinguished position in Mexico’s power combine.

Not solely is López Obrador is betting big on fossil fuels, he’s additionally curbing clear power.

The populist president has promoted a imaginative and prescient of power sovereignty, during which state-run our bodies – the oil firm Pemex and the Federal Electrical energy Fee (CFE) – pump petroleum and generate electrical energy. Personal gamers, which have closely invested in clear power, are relegated to a secondary position in López Obrador’s imaginative and prescient – whereas emissions and climate commitments are an afterthought.

Miners make wooden support beams in a coal mine in Agujita, Coahuila state, on 13 November 2012.
Miners make wood assist beams in a coal mine in Agujita, Coahuila state, on 13 November 2012. {Photograph}: Yuri Cortéz/AFP/Getty Photographs

“As a substitute of pondering of a transition from coal and fossil fuels, he’s pondering of utilizing extra coal and petroleum,” stated Adrián Fernández Bremauntz, director of Iniciativa Climática de México, an environmental organisation.

“No different G20 nation has such irregular or retrograde power insurance policies as this authorities,” he added. “It’s not going to advance us towards our climate objectives.”

Amlo’s insurance policies stand in stark distinction to these of the Biden administration, which has declared that the climate disaster poses an “existential menace” and unveiled a flurry of insurance policies to decouple the US financial system from fossil fuels.

The CFE’s present funding plan forgoes clear power tasks totally. And a invoice for overhauling the electrical energy trade that was lately despatched to Congress would drive the CFE to buy energy from its personal amenities, together with coal crops, earlier than renewables.

López Obrador has stated his authorities will refurbish the CFE’s hydroelectric installations, which might enable Mexico to satisfy its climate commitments of producing 35% of its electrical energy through renewables.

However to make its case for prioritising fossil fuels and re-establishing a state-run electrical energy trade, the Mexican authorities has repeatedly forged doubt on the dependability of renewables – arguing that photo voltaic and wind power are unreliable and claiming they’d been given choice over CFE hydroelectric tasks.

And regardless of more and more highly effective hurricanes, droughts and different excessive climate which have bothered the area, it has stayed silent on the climate disaster.

After a December blackout plunged 10.3 million prospects into darkness, the CFE partly blamed the afternoon outage on document ranges of renewable power overloading the ability grid.

Arturo Rivera Wong speaks to employees at his coal mine in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila state.
Arturo Rivera Wong speaks to workers at his coal mine in San Juan de Sabinas, Coahuila state. {Photograph}: David Agren/The Guardian

Previously, Mexico has been a climate leader. It was the first growing nation to ship its climate motion plan forward of the Paris settlement, however such ambitions are now treated with crushing lack of curiosity by the federal government.

“The Paris settlement has zero relevance to something they’re speaking about within the electrical sector proper now,” stated Jeremy Martin, vice-president for power and sustainability on the Institute of the Americas.

López Obrador outlook on fossil fuels and state-run corporations stems from his upbringing within the oil-rich state of Tabasco at a time when Pemex was seen because the car for nationwide improvement. Personal corporations and foreigners had been excluded from the power sector since a 1938 expropriation.

However a gap of the trade in 2013 inspired a spate of latest funding – a lot of it in renewables. Mexico additionally launched clear power auctions, which “set document costs for the way low builders had been bidding to place renewables into the combination”, Martin stated.

These auctions stopped after López Obrador took energy in December 2018. Anaid Velasco, analysis director on the Mexican Middle for Environmental Legislation, described the brand new authorities’s coverage as: “I’ll put obstacles within the path of the non-public sector, which invested most in renewables and I’ll put most of my efforts – and not less than 80% of the price range – into fossil fuels.”

Even because the coronavirus pandemic heaps distress on Mexico, López Obrador has continued to pour funding into Pemex and hasn’t slowed building on a huge $8bn oil refinery.

“We’re going to rescue Pemex and the CFE,” Amlo says usually, interesting to nationalism and impugning his predecessors for opening up the power sector to personal and international traders.

George Baker, a veteran Pemex analyst, in contrast Amlo’s rhetoric on power to Donald Trump’s fixation with restoring the US coal industry. “It’s a form of feel-good assertion on the extent of ‘Make America nice once more’,” he stated.

López Obrador has additionally confirmed a marked enthusiasm for coal, which produces roughly 9.5% of Mexico’s electrical energy. In October, he travelled to the coal mining areas of Coahuila, to announce the reactivation of the CFE’s coal-fired crops. He known as clear power a “sophism” to prioritize non-public over public enterprise.

The president’s dedication to coal was welcome aid for miners like Rivera, whose household has labored within the mines for 3 generations.

Coal miners work at an artisanal mine in Nueva Rosita on 31 July 2008.
Coal miners work at an artisanal mine in Nueva Rosita on 31 July 2008. {Photograph}: Tomas Bravo/Reuters

Mining virtually floor to a halt in 2019 when the CFE stopped buying amid plans to transition to cleaner power supply. About 10,000 miners misplaced their jobs.

To remain afloat, Rivera shut down the mine, and bought 20 cows and the home he had inherited from his mom. A few of his workers had been pressured to scrounge for nuts to feed their households.

His firm now extracts 700 tons of coal a week from his mine which burrows underneath the parched terrain of cactus and mesquite.

The area is pocked with mines of all sizes, starting from artisanal pocitos, or “little holes”, to large-scale operations and open pits. “You dig 30 meters and also you strike coal,” stated Javier Gómez Acuña, director of Prodemi, a state-government company to advertise mining. “It’s in all places.”

Situations are sometimes hazardous: 19 February marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Pasta de Conchos catastrophe which killed 65 miners.

Because the coal-fired plant reopens extra furnaces, Rivera expects to ramp up manufacturing to 1,900 tons a week.

“What does the president need? To reactivate the financial system as a result of 50% of this area relies upon on mining,” Rivera stated.

Rivera didn’t deny the climate disaster and stated drought had gripped the area for 3 years. “We positively consider in climate change and alternate types of producing power need to be pursued. However we have to advance little by little,” he stated.

Employees making ready to reopen the coal mines appeared extra apprehensive about work than the climate.

“They are saying they’re now not going to purchase coal due to these photo voltaic lamps and stuff like that,” stated Luis Alberto García. “However I hope we will at all times promote coal as a result of we earn more money from it.”

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