New president Claudia Sheinbaum is a local weather professional. Can she save Mexico? | EUROtoday

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MEXICO CITY — She was an power engineer, a quiet, pushed Mexican educational who’d labored at a significant U.S. authorities lab and investigated a few of the hardest issues in local weather change.

Claudia Sheinbaum was a pure selection when the celebrated U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change chosen scientists for a landmark report in 2014. It would warn the world was hurtling towards “irreversible” injury from greenhouse gases, and name for pressing motion.

Sheinbaum’s contributions have been “an added value for the team,” mentioned Manfred Fischedick, a professor in Germany who labored on the report. “And — I would like to stress that aspect specifically — she never came across as a politician.”

Now, Sheinbaum is about to change into Mexico’s president.

Her election has given hope to environmentalists and diplomats who’ve despaired as Mexico has gone from a worldwide chief on local weather change to a laggard.

Yet Sheinbaum has a sophisticated document. She’s the protégé of outgoing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often called AMLO, who sidelined green-energy tasks and prioritized tapping petroleum fields. In her latest stint as Mexico City mayor, Sheinbaum loyally defended his insurance policies — at the same time as she launched electrical buses and lined the capital’s huge meals market with photo voltaic panels.

“Like a political chameleon, she adapts to the situation she’s in,” mentioned Antonio Mediavilla, an environmental scientist who has labored on tasks together with her administration. “But now, she will be the boss.”

What route will she take? The reply could have implications far past Mexico’s borders. The nation is the world’s Eleventh-biggest oil producer, and the second-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in Latin America. Much of that’s derived from power — automobile exhaust, methane emissions from fuel and oil infrastructure, planet-warming gases drifting from fossil fuel-burning electrical energy crops.

Sheinbaum, 62, has outlined a $14 billion plan for brand new power technology, specializing in wind, photo voltaic and hydropower. “We have to speed up the promotion of renewable energies,” she advised enterprise executives whereas campaigning in April. Her platform is an environmentalist’s want listing: extra electric-powered public transit, better power effectivity, a program to take pollution-belching previous automobiles and vehicles off the street.

“Ninety percent of the proposals in her platform are things we need to do,” mentioned Adrián Fernández, the director of Climate Initiative of Mexico, a nonprofit group that labored with Sheinbaum on tasks when she was mayor. But these plans are incompatible together with her guarantees to proceed a lot of López Obrador’s power insurance policies, he mentioned — like strengthening the nationwide oil and electrical energy firms.

“What’s going to happen? That’s the big question for the country,” he mentioned.

Sheinbaum grew up in a scientific family

Sheinbaum comes from a household of scientists deeply concerned in leftist causes. Even as an undergraduate, she was tinkering with environmental issues, designing extra environment friendly wood-burning stoves for rural Indigenous girls. “It was quite difficult,” recalled Victor Alejandro Salcido, her thesis adviser — a undertaking involving laptop modeling and problems with combustion, fluid mechanics and effectivity.

While doing graduate work within the Nineties at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — a part of the U.S. Department of Energy lab community — Sheinbaum received below the hood of a lot greater techniques. She analyzed power use in a few of Mexico’s largest contributors to local weather change, together with its transportation, constructing and metal sectors.

Cutting greenhouse fuel emissions in difficult-to-decarbonize industrial sectors, akin to steelmaking, is among the hardest, most data-intensive challenges in local weather science. Sheinbaum excelled, incomes a doctorate in power engineering from Mexico’s flagship National Autonomous University.

Two many years later, she grew to become one of many lead authors for the business chapter of the U.N. panel’s report.

Joyashree Roy, an economist who additionally labored on the 2014 report, mentioned Sheinbaum was a affected person listener who knew methods to command a room. Roy remembered a gathering in South Korea the place Sheinbaum went to the board and labored on an equation for the group.

“She knew her stuff very well.”

Roy was conscious that the Mexican scientist was concerned in politics however by no means suspected she would change into head of state. “At the time, none of us could imagine this can happen,” she mentioned.

Sheinbaum received her first high-level authorities job in 2000. López Obrador, a longtime leftist, had been elected mayor of Mexico City, and requested her to be his surroundings secretary. But he additionally put her in control of one among his signature tasks, constructing a “second floor” on the ring street round Mexico City. Many environmentalists have been appalled, believing the brand new freeway would solely encourage extra automobiles, extra exhaust.

Even as she oversaw its building, nonetheless, Sheinbaum launched the Metrobús — a fast transit hall with environment friendly, diesel-fueled buses. That system, which has grown to seven traces, saves round 70,000 tons of carbon-dioxide emissions per 12 months. After she grew to become mayor herself in 2018, Sheinbaum started changing the buses to electrical energy.

“She has had to put her political loyalty to López Obrador in the forefront, even in situations where she probably isn’t in agreement,” mentioned Fernández.

Now she could have the prospect to totally outline her personal insurance policies. Or so environmentalists hope.

“What we first need,” Fernández mentioned, “is for López Obrador to go home and leave the president-elect alone.”

Lopez Obrador's affect over Sheinbaum

That could also be extra difficult than it sounds.

López Obrador is the founding father of Mexico’s dominant Morena social gathering, a charismatic populist who has elevated spending on social applications for the poor. Sheinbaum, his handpicked successor, rode his coattails to a landslide victory.

While López Obrador has promised he’ll retire when his time period ends in September, many Mexicans are uncertain.

“It’s in the DNA of AMLO to continue to be the center of power,” mentioned Carlos Heredia, an economist who served as an adviser to López Obrador when he was mayor.

Under López Obrador, a local of Tabasco state, in Mexico’s oil patch, environmental insurance policies modified dramatically. He’d lengthy seen Pemex as a logo of nationwide sovereignty, and believed Mexico needs to be impartial in power.

He spent billions of {dollars} on new oil refineries, and tried to undo a sweeping 2013 power reform, which had opened the state-dominated oil, fuel and electrical energy sectors to non-public corporations. The president couldn’t muster the votes to scrap these legal guidelines, however he withheld permits to international companies growing photo voltaic and wind-driven energy, giving a much bigger position to the nationwide electrical energy firm, which typically burned dirtier fuels.

In 2022, Climate Action Tracker, an impartial group that screens nations’ local weather motion, downgraded Mexico’s insurance policies to “critically insufficient,” its worst ranking.

Sheinbaum has vowed to keep up López Obrador’s coverage guaranteeing state-run corporations greater than half the power market. But she’s additionally promised she’ll subject “clear rules” for personal traders to take part.

“You have to see her as a woman of the left, who believes a lot in state intervention, who believes in state-run businesses,” mentioned Jesús Carrillo, financial director on the analysis group Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, identified by its Spanish initials, IMCO.

Asked for remark, Sheinbaum’s marketing campaign group referred The Washington Post to Marina Robles, who served as her surroundings secretary in recent times.

Robles denied any contradiction in Sheinbaum’s embrace of each authorities power corporations and renewables.

“Claudia has always defended clean energy, but she has also defended our sovereignty and defended the natural resources of our country,” she mentioned.

Mexico’s overwhelmed power system

Sheinbaum might be constrained not simply by politics, however by economics.

Today, Mexico’s energy grid will depend on low cost pure fuel from Texas to maintain the lights on. Pemex has change into the world’s most indebted power firm. It has been unable to put money into capturing methane, a potent greenhouse fuel, from its infrastructure, based on Diego Rivera Rivota, a senior analysis affiliate at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

“What we have today is a very challenging situation,” he mentioned.

One of López Obrador’s most necessary renewable power investments is Plan Sonora, a $1.6 billion photo voltaic megaproject in northern Mexico constructed by the federal electrical energy firm. But for years, that firm has skimped on investing in transmission traces that might join properties and companies to solar- or wind-powered electrical energy farms. Without such a community, “there’s no way we can use that electricity,” mentioned Isabel Studer, director of the Mexican nonprofit group Global Sustainability.

Mexico’s financial progress has been slowing, and Sheinbaum has promised to chop the federal deficit, now 6 % of GDP, the best in many years. Given such monetary constraints, she’ll want to draw non-public traders to hold out her formidable plans for extra renewable power, analysts say. But she desires to cap their output at lower than half of Mexico’s electrical energy manufacturing, following López Obrador’s lead.

Investors can also be discouraged by a sweeping plan being pushed by the outgoing president to ascertain the direct election of judges. While that’s in a roundabout way associated to the surroundings, companies concern it might weaken judicial independence and erode authorized ensures. The thought has spooked monetary markets, inflicting the Mexican peso to droop in latest weeks.

“You have to provide certainty,” mentioned Odón de Buen, former director of the National Commission for the Efficient Use of Energy. “If I’m looking to invest $10 billion in something and recoup my investment over 30 years, but I realize the rules of the game could change in three years, I won’t take the risk.”

Sheinbaum has proven political talent in attracting worldwide funding with out tarnishing her nationalist credentials, based on individuals who have labored together with her. As mayor, she participated in a number of main power and surroundings tasks with the U.S. Agency for International Development, whereas hardly ever highlighting that partnership.

But she additionally has tried to stability her environmental program together with her efforts to assist lower-income neighborhoods. She constructed electric-powered aerial cable-cars in hillside slums, and carved out parks within the capital’s poorer east facet.

“Environmental improvements have to be accompanied by social justice,” mentioned Robles, describing Sheinbaum’s philosophy.

Even if Sheinbaum maintains a few of López Obrador’s insurance policies, many scientists imagine her six-year time period might be totally different. “The environmental theme isn’t secondary for her,” mentioned Alberto Rojas, who studied together with her in a program for environmental leaders on the College of Mexico. “It’s her theme.”

Grandoni reported from Washington; Ríos reported from Monterrey.