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Once a climate leader, Mexico is betting big on coal

The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is swimming against the current: while other countries are moving their economies away from the coal and other fossil industries, he has opted for plans to buy almost 2 million tons of thermal coal from small producers. It also seeks to reactivate a couple of coal plants on the Texas border, which had been closing as natural gas and renewables assumed a more prominent role in Mexico’s energy mix.

“We are reactivating the industry,” said Arturo Rivera Wong , who recently hired 40 more workers at his mine located in the bushes of the state of Coahuila. “Four furnaces at the large thermoelectric plant are going to be reactivated (…) This is going to boost coal sales,” he added.

The Mexican president is not only betting heavily on fossil fuels but he is also reducing clean energy investments.

“The populist president has promoted a vision of energy sovereignty, in which state agencies – the oil company Pemex and the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) – pump oil and generate electricity. Private sectors, who have invested heavily in clean energy, are relegated to a secondary role in López Obrador’s vision, while emissions and climate commitments are an afterthought,” according to the publication, The Guardian.

George Baker, a veteran Pemex analyst, who compared AMLO’s rhetoric on energy to Donald Trump’s obsession with restoring the US coal industry, noted “It’s kind of a feel-good statement on the ‘Make America Great Again’ level”.

In the past, Mexico has been a climate leader. It was the first developing country to deliver its climate action plan before the Paris agreement, but those ambitions are now being treated with an overwhelming lack of interest on the part of the government.

López Obrador’s perspective on fossil fuels and state-owned companies comes from his upbringing in the oil-rich state of Tabasco, just at a time when Pemex was seen as the vehicle for national development, after private companies and foreigners had been excluded from the energy sector since a 1938 expropriation.

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