COP27: Mexico’s ‘unambitious’ commitments kept on hold by court

Loss and damage, gender and indigenous issues will be priorities at November summit, but country faces tight timeline to update its commitments amid court suspension
<p>A Mexican flag flies at a gas processing centre run by state oil company Pemex. Mexico, the thirteenth largest greenhouse gas-emitting country annually, has had its NDC has been suspended by a court for being unambitious (Image: REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/Alamy)</p>

A Mexican flag flies at a gas processing centre run by state oil company Pemex. Mexico, the thirteenth largest greenhouse gas-emitting country annually, has had its NDC has been suspended by a court for being unambitious (Image: REUTERS/Edgard Garrido/Alamy)

Mexico will reportedly focus on adaptation, loss and damage and human rights at COP27, the United Nations’ climate summit set to be held in Egypt this November. But the Central American nation has encountered a hitch in readying its mitigation plans, made through a commitment known as a nationally determined contribution or NDC, with its current plan suspended by a court since 2021.

“This COP will be very particular as there will be no specific deliverables, but rather negotiation processes that will culminate in the following COPs, such as the global goal on adaptation,” said Camila Zepeda, director-general for global issues at the country’s foreign ministry. “Mexico will focus on four issues: adaptation; loss and damage; climate finance; and the cross-cutting issues of Action for Climate Empowerment, which include the gender perspective, human rights and respect for indigenous peoples.”

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The official clarified that there were still items to be finalised, as the Mexican delegation prepares through technical sessions and meetings with local authorities, the legislative branch and federal agencies. These talks will be used to review what the country will bring to negotiations in Egypt. Zepeda said a full agenda would be reached by the end of October.

Anaid Velasco, research manager at the Mexican Centre for Environmental Law (CEMDA), pointed similarly to adaptation, financing, human rights and gender, as well as nature-based solutions, as the major issues for Mexico. She was less positive about Mexico’s mitigation efforts: “The cross-cutting issues clearly have their importance, but we would love to see a more ambitious update of the mitigation commitment.”

While Mexico is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, it also has some responsibility for the problem, as the country that is the thirteenth largest annual emitter of greenhouse gases (GHG).

But Mexico’s responsibility contrasts with the GHG mitigation or reduction commitments it has currently made. Environmental organisations doubt that the country’s administration will be able to resolve the suspension of its NDC and come up with new mitigation commitments in time for COP27.

“We have to put on our reality glasses,” said Pablo Ramírez, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Mexico. “The legal timelines in Mexico are highly variable, we have seen that the specialised courts, which is where [the court case] is, have seen an increase in cases, so it is difficult to know when it will be resolved. It would be more realistic to rework the NDC than to await a ruling.”

In terms of adaptation, the challenges for Mexico are significant. Although its suspended NDC added new actions, such as addressing climate impacts on tangible cultural heritage, it does not present any adaptation indicators to measure them. For example, Velasco said, simply having actions such as publishing risk atlases does not mean that the country is actively reducing its vulnerability.

NDC remains suspended

In March 2021, Greenpeace filed a legal complaint against the Mexican state for failing to increase ambition of its NDC, when an update was presented in late 2020. Nationally determined contributions must be updated every five years by each signatory to the Paris Agreement, with 195 countries filing mitigation and adaptation commitments to limit global warming to 1.5C to avoid the worst climate impacts – on a planet that has already warmed by 1.1C since preindustrial times.

“Right now the NDC is on permanent hold due to its regressiveness. We are still waiting for the case to be resolved,” said Ramírez.

The fact that the NDC is suspended does not mean that the Mexican government has to sit back and do nothing

The case saw a court suspend Mexico’s 2020 NDC update for dialling back ambitions on a peak emissions date and emissions reductions by 2050, and for allowing an additional 14 million tonnes of emissions. On these issues, the commitments of the 2015 NDC were reinstated until a review was completed, but with only weeks to go until COP27, these have still not been finalised and the case remains without resolution.

“The fact that the NDC is suspended does not mean that the Mexican government has to sit back and do nothing; it must work to increase the mitigation target,” stated Verónica Méndez, a climate lawyer with the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA).

Méndez said that the commitments that the country submitted in 2020 were only a “ratification” of those it had made in its 2015 NDC, when the Paris Agreement was created: it featured the same percentages of greenhouse gas (22%) and black carbon (51%) reductions, but with a change in the baseline that would allow more carbon dioxide to be emitted into the atmosphere.

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Greenpeace filed the case against Mexico’s NDC on the grounds that its terms violate the right to a healthy environment by not complying with the Paris Agreement’s principles of progressively increased ambition on emissions mitigation. However, Mexico’s highest court of justice also suspended adaptation commitments in the 2020 update, something on which the NGO requested a clarification but has not yet received a response.

“In actual fact,” Ramírez said, “it is as if the 2015 NDC was still in force, as if what happened in 2020 did not exist.”

Méndez said that AIDA submitted an amicus curiae brief to the court, registering their interest in the case and support of Greenpeace’s complaint, and presenting arguments based in international law, such as the link between climate change and human rights. This allowed them to argue that, in order to guarantee human rights, mitigation commitments had to be more ambitious.

The foreign ministry’s Zepeda shared that a consultation process on the NDC’s update is ongoing, but said she did not know if they will be ready in time for COP27.

Mexico’s COP27 goals

One of the objectives for the Mexican delegation at COP27 will be to promote the issue of loss and damage.

International funds to finance adaptation to climate change in the most vulnerable countries, including the Adaptation Fund, focus on medium- and long-term projects, but not as much on extreme events occurring in the now, such as droughts or devastating hurricanes. Efforts are required not only for shelter and humanitarian care, but also for reconstruction, loss of culture and economic damage, Zepeda said.

Greenpeace’s Ramírez agreed, but added that the nation must match such support with increased efforts of its own. “It is essential that Mexico begins to demand reparations for damages, as long as it contributes to mitigation, especially in the energy sector, which is the [country’s] main source of emissions,” he said.

It is essential that Mexico begins to demand reparations for damages, as long as it contributes to mitigation

Another issue Mexico will seek to highlight at COP27 will be low-emission mobility. In August, it was reported that the Mexican delegation will present a preview of the country’s roadmap for electromobility at the summit. The plan has been drawn up by the foreign ministry and the University of California, and targets the electrification of public transport.

The country will also run a youth climate ambassador programme for the second successive COP, as part of which four young people have been selected to accompany the Mexican diplomatic delegation to the negotiations.

“One of the young women who is participating comes from a Zapotec indigenous community. We asked her to support us on agriculture issues and the Action for Climate Empowerment agenda, which seeks to educate and empower society to participate in decision-making on climate projects,” Zepeda revealed. “Two young people will focus on adaptation and loss and damage; and one more will help us with Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, to look at, among other things, new carbon market mechanisms.”

Mexico at COP26

Mexico returned from COP26 with a number of international commitments to be implemented, such as those set out in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which it signed along with 144 other countries with the aim of halting and reversing forest loss and land degradation by 2030. Countries set out common actions such as restoring and conserving forests and recognising the rights of indigenous peoples.

A "mechero" or burner burns at a Pemex refinery
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But there were also international calls that Mexico did not join, for example, the Global Coal to Clean Power Transition Statement, which seeks to end investment in coal and eliminate this fossil fuel by 2030. The initiative had only 23 signatories, including Chile, Indonesia, Poland, Egypt and Spain. Mexico has not yet made it clear whether it will join this year.

Zepeda explains that these are political declarations, which do not come from a mandate of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the international treaty whose decision-making forum is the COP. “Each country has its own process for studying and adhering to these declarations. In Mexico, the agencies of the federal administration that are responsible for the declarations have to be consulted,” she said.

For CEMDA’s Velasco, the declarations that Mexico has joined must be translated into concrete public policy actions: “The country already signed the methane petition at the last COP, but what is it going to report on this? Our organisation is going to follow up on the methane commitments and we will also join the demand for the recognition of loss and damages at COP27.”

This article was first published by Climate Tracker Latin America; it has been translated and lightly adapted for a wider audience.