LatinNews Daily - 23 April 2021

MEXICO: López Obrador’s disconnect with Biden becomes clear

On 22 April Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that Mexico will continue to exploit its oil reserves for domestic use.

Analysis:

López Obrador made the remarks during his speech at the Leaders Summit on Climate virtual conference hosted by US President Joe Biden in which the US president challenged world leaders to commit to more ambitious carbon emissions reduction targets to combat climate change. López Obrador’s failure to commit to any new targets and his defence of Mexico’s oil industry have been heavily criticised by environmental groups, analysts, and diplomats. These argue that it shows that López Obrador is out of step with the Biden administration; and led to warnings that it could produce serious bilateral frictions.

  • President Biden opened the virtual summit by asking attendees to “step up” and do more to transition to cleaner energy use to “overcome the existential crisis of our times”. But López Obrador, who did not actively take part in the summit preferring to host his daily morning press briefing over listening to other leaders speak, did not propose any action that Mexico could take to reduce its emissions. In his speech, delivered during his press briefing, López Obrador said that Mexico is trying to generate more clean energy through the modernisation of its existing hydroelectric dams.
  • But López Obrador, who has made bolstering Mexico’s state-owned oil firm (Pemex) a key energy policy objective, made it clear that Mexico will continue to use its oil for fuel and to produce electricity, while nonetheless reiterating his government’s objective to limit oil production for domestic use and keep oil consumption at stable levels. “Although we have found some major hydrocarbon deposits, this oil will be used to cover internal market fuel demand. We will not export oil… in this way we will help to prevent the excessive use of petrol fuels”, López Obrador said.
  • López Obrador devoted much of his speech to outline his proposal for the US to finance a ‘trees-for-visas’ reforestation initiative. This would involve encouraging the plantation of fruit and timber trees in Central America by offering assistance to producers and the opportunity to apply for US work visas after successful participation in the scheme. López Obrador said that the scheme would promote reforestation and help stem irregular migration from Central America. However, the proposal had already been dismissed by Biden government officials earlier this week when López Obrador first floated it, with US officials saying that the issues of migration and climate change should be kept separate.
  • López Obrador’s speech was broadly criticised. Environmental organisations such as Greenpeace were quick to note Mexico has already fallen behind on its commitments, assumed under the Paris Agreement on climate change, to reduce emissions and transition towards a cleaner energy matrix and accused López Obrador of being disinterested in the matter. Meanwhile political analysts said that López Obrador’s actions show how little he cares about an issue that is seen as top priority for other world leaders including Biden.

Looking Ahead: Diplomats such as Mexico’s former ambassador to the US, Arturo Sarukhán (2007-2013), criticised López Obrador for “not taking the summit seriously” and warned that this could have “consequences”.