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What’s at stake for the environment in Mexico’s upcoming election?

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  • On June 2, in addition to president, Mexico will choose all 500 deputies in the lower house of Congress and all 128 seats in the Senate.
  • The main presidential candidates are left-wing Claudia Sheinbaum and right-wing Xóchitl Gálvez, with center-left Jorge Máynez representing a third, dark-horse option.
  • Both Sheinbaum and Gálvez want to invest more in renewable energy, but disagree about some controversial infrastructure projects.

MEXICO CITY — Mexico will hold elections on June 2 that are likely to shape the country for years to come. In addition to president, all 500 deputies in the lower house of Congress and all 128 seats in the Senate are on the ballot. The winners will have to reckon with a host of pressing environmental concerns that range from renewable energy and mining to access to clean water and infrastructure.

The main presidential candidates are left-wing Claudia Sheinbaum and right-wing Xóchitl Gálvez, with center-left Jorge Máynez representing a third, dark-horse option. One of them will take over from the polarizing left-wing populist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who isn’t eligible to run again.

AMLO’s presidency had no shortage of scandals, and much of the criticism he received had to do with the environment. He favored fossil fuels over renewal energy, building new refineries and prioritizing state-owned oil and gas giant Pemex over private wind and solar power companies. He bet on huge infrastructure projects — trains, pipelines, interoceanic corridors — that angered Indigenous communities and skirted basic environmental regulations.

Meanwhile, the country is in the midst of a water crisis that threatens to leave millions of residents — both in major cities like Mexico City and rural areas like Oaxaca — without access to potable water. The problem stems from a lack of sanitation infrastructure and management, but it’s also a climate change and conservation problem. Droughts and desertification have exacerbated the crisis.

Claudia Sheinbaum

Running with the left-wing party Morena, Sheinbaum is the former head of Mexico City and an environmental scientist by trade. She co-authored the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, yet her campaign has been light on rigorous environmental policy, some critics have said.

That might be because she’s AMLO’s mentee and planned successor, obligating her to support some of his more controversial policies in order to maintain party unity. It’s hard to gauge whether she’ll modify any of them after taking office, experts say.

She continues to support one of AMLO’s most polarizing projects, the Tren Maya, a 1,554-kilometer (966-mile) railroad crossing the Yucatán Peninsula. Despite dozens of legal complaints about deforestation, the destruction of cave ecosystems and the relocation of Indigenous communities, she’s defended the project and even suggested expanding it to a major port in the town of Progreso, in northwest Yucatán. She spoke out when a court suspended work on the train and shrugged off safety concerns when a car slipped off the rails earlier this year.

Claudia Sheinbaum on the campaign trail. Photo courtesy of Claudia Sheinbaum.

Like AMLO, she said she’s going to continue to support Pemex, which has struggled with production and debt, but she said she also wants to accelerate renewable energy development. Her campaign pledged more than $13 billion for clean energy projects and the modernization of five hydroelectric plants, which could add around 13 gigawatts to Mexico’s energy grid.

AMLO reformed the mining industry by increasing profits for local and Indigenous communities and making free and prior consent a requirement for new concessions. But it was criticized for not going far enough. Sheinbaum wants to halt open-pit mining concessions altogether and ban fracking.

As for the water crisis, her campaign is preparing a national water plan that will reform Mexico’s water law to improve regulations on concessions and the transfer of titles, as well as modernize irrigation in the agricultural sector.

Conservation seems to be less of a priority for Sheinbaum, as her policies on protected areas and biodiversity are less detailed than other parts of her platform. She pledged to protect forests, invest in reforesting, and clean rivers. The Sembrando Vida program, a forestry incentive initiative that’s become controversial for its lack of results, will continue if she’s elected.

She also plans to develop national fertilizer and petrochemical production, which could increase instances of pollution if not properly regulated.

Xóchitl Gálvez

Gálvez is running with a right-wing coalition made up of the Democratic Revolution Party, the National Action Party and the Institutional Revolutionary Party. She’s a former senator and director of the National Indigenous Peoples’ Development Commission, which works to close socioeconomic gaps in Indigenous communities. She also served as mayor of the Miguel Hidalgo delegation of Mexico City.

She’s staunchly opposed to Tren Maya and plans to halt construction on the controversial line 5 that’s destroying cave ecosystems along the coast between Cancún and Tulum. If elected, she’ll likely close the line or at least pause development until better environmental impact studies can be carried out.

Similar to Sheinbaum, she plans to support Pemex while also working to bring the country to 50% renewable energy by 2030. She promised to move forward on 100 renewable energy projects that include solar and wind power, in part by reconsidering permit requests that have allegedly stalled during the current government. Her plan also includes installing rooftop solar panels on 2 million homes.

Xóchitl Gálvez on the campaign trail. Photo courtesy of Xóchitl Gálvez.

Gálvez’s policy proposal doesn’t include the mining sector. But at a campaign event this month, she expressed support for the industry in general and its importance to the Mexican economy. Critics later said her comments showed a lack of understanding of the industry.

Her policies are far more robust for the water crisis, which she called a national security issue. She wants to modernize the country’s water infrastructure, fix leaks, and develop ways to reuse wastewater in urban areas.

Gálvez wants to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 through new forest restoration projects, sustainable use, carbon credit and green bond policies. She also wants to “rescue our protected natural areas from the hands of organized crime,” according to her policy proposal. She plans to empower local and Indigenous communities to develop their own policies and decision-making.

Jorge Máynez

Máynez, a former member of the lower house of Congress, is running for the center-left Citizens’ Movement. He’s currently polling at an aggregate 10% support behind Sheinbaum (56%) and Gálvez (34%).

He also opposes line 5 of the Tren Maya and has brought up the idea of canceling that part of the project. He doesn’t mention protected areas or conservation in his policy proposal.

He also wants to reduce fossil fuel subsidies and slowly transform Pemex into a renewable energy company, according to his policy proposal.

To address the water crisis, he wants to double the budget for infrastructure by the end of his term and install rainwater collectors to increase available drinking water. He also wants to modernize dams and wastewater treatment plants.

Banner image: The Olmeca Refinery in Dos Bocas in Tabasco, Mexico. Photo courtesy of Gobierno de México.

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