High heat + big talk: Mexico president hopefuls flunk climate test

A man showing symptoms of heat exhaustion touches a bottle of water provided by paramedics during a heatwave in Mexicali, Mexico, July 20, 2023. REUTERS/Victor Medina

A man showing symptoms of heat exhaustion touches a bottle of water provided by paramedics during a heatwave in Mexicali, Mexico, July 20, 2023. REUTERS/Victor Medina

What’s the context?

Despite record heat and drought, experts question the electoral ambition of Mexico's candidates when it comes to the climate

  • Experts question candidates' climate targets
  • Policies ranked as 'critically insufficient'
  • Water scarcity leads the debate
  • Few expect to see the job done - whoever wins

MEXICO CITY - It has never been hotter in Mexico - and the women and men who want to run the country have never tried harder to come up with solutions to the climate crisis. Nor ever fallen quite so short, according to analysis of their election policies. 

A dozen cities across the country have broken temperature records in the past month, reaching up to 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) and killing 43 people so far.

The scorching heatwaves have been aggravated by a drought spanning 70% of the country, according to the national water commission, and by widespread power outages due to high demand.

It is little surprise, then, that the climate emergency has been a key policy focus of all three candidates who are running for the presidency in June 2's election.

Whoever wins next month will then lead until 2030, by which time Mexico must hit its various climate targets. 

But climate experts told Context that all three wannabes for the top job fall short on vision given the job at hand.

"These are the last six years we will have to limit global warming to 1.5 C and act upon the catastrophic events we are beginning to see, but this is not reflected in their proposals," said Paula Tussie Berdichevsky, spokesperson for Wildcoast Mexico, a coastal and marine conservation group.


Fears that Mexico will flunk its self-set targets have already been fuelled by the actions of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

In 2022, Mexico increased its target to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 22% to 30% below its usual levels by 2030.

Despite the uptick in ambition, the target is still rated "critically insufficient" to make the 1.5 C temperature limit, according to research coalition Climate Action Tracker.

"This administration has been a bit regressive on its road towards reaching Mexico's international commitments," Margarita Campuzano, spokesperson for environmental law center CEMDA, told Context.

López Obrador has also backed greater exploitation of fossil fuel resources and relied on tree-planting initiatives such as "Sembrando Vida" (Sowing Life) to make good on the damage. 

Most of the federal budget for climate has also been used on a pet project of the president: building the Maya Train, a tourist railway that cuts through the jungle in southern Mexico.

Cute - but largely ineffective, the experts say.

"These activities do not really contribute to mitigating greenhouse gases," said Campuzano.

Experts also said imposing budget cuts on key environmental institutions and failing to invest in protected natural areas have also halted progress. 

"There are no resources (for climate actions) and, even if we had external financing, we do not have the regulation needed to take advantage of it," said Tussie Berdichevsky.

Another worry is a rise in violence against environmental defenders – particularly indigenous activists.

CEMDA has documented at least 102 murders and 532 attacks on defenders in the first five years of this administration.

A woman, Maria Juárez, fills a container with water at her house in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. May 15, 2022. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Diana Baptista
Go DeeperAs taps run dry, Mexican drought fuels anger over water inequality
Women and children wash themselves after work at a muskmelon farm in Jacobabad, Pakistan. May 17, 2022. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
Go DeeperHow can workers be protected from extreme heat?
Go Deeper'We all need water': Panama's canal, and people, thirst for more

Unambitious proposals

As for the future, no candidate has won green plaudits.

Claudia Sheinbaum, who leads the election race, is an environmental engineer and ex-member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change so should have form on green policies.

Representing the ruling party, she has pledged $13.57 billion in new energy generation projects through 2030.

But, to the experts' chagrin, she also wants to expand natural gas production, maintain the Sembrando Vida tree planting project and boost state-owned oil company PEMEX.

For one of the opposition coalitions, candidate Xóchitl Gálvez has vowed to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 - a goal currently outside Mexico's climate targets - but fails to explain how the country will achieve it.

Opposition candidate Jorge Álvarez Máynez has also made a commitment to boost renewable energy and lower dependency on fossil fuel, without pledging specific targets or any budget.

As for the water crisis, the candidates have all promised new laws to make access to water a human right, catch rainwater and to beef up the nation's water infrastructure.

Candidates have also zoomed in on some of the issues caused by water inequality, in which certain industries - such as soda and bottled water companies - win privileged access.

But for experts, the candidates have failed to consider the clear link between climate change and water scarcity and are peddling old solutions as new.

"They are not presenting new proposals - some of them are already mandated by law. They are not inventing the wheel," said Anaid Velasco, director of climate financing group GFLAC. 

"What would be really innovative is to plan a water policy based on a climate-change context."

Heat and water

As heat rises and drought deepens, environmental groups want stronger climate action as well as a designated budget. 

In May, 12 environmental groups including CEMDA and Greenpeace said all candidates lacked the "ambitious and realistic" proposals needed to tackle the climate emergency.

They attacked the lack of just-transition plans letting vulnerable communities have a say in energy industry decisions.

"Communities need to be made part of the projects instead of marginalised  and criminalised," Campuzano said. 

And 40 groups working on conservation and research - the collective México Resiliente (Resilient Mexico) - have launched a 10-point climate plan for the next president.

Their plan includes a push for green jobs, guaranteed access to water and less dependency on fossil fuel.

"The person who reaches the presidency must...establish mechanisms, laws, institutions and budgets to contain the issue," said Gabriel Rosas, member of climate justice group Pacto Socioambiental de México.

(Written by Diana Baptista and edited by Lyndsay Griffiths)

Context is powered by the Thomson Reuters Foundation Newsroom.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles

A woman drinks water from a mug on a hot summer day in New Delhi, India June 9, 2023

Part of:

What risks do we face because of rising heat?

What can be done to limit the physical, mental, economic and social risks of rising heat?

Updated: May 07, 2024


  • Extreme weather
  • Adaptation
  • Climate policy
  • Climate and health

Get our climate newsletter. Free. Every week.

By providing your email, you agree to our Privacy Policy.

Latest on Context