New Era Of Mexican Leadership Begins Under Scorching Heat: Climate Change Crisis Deepens

In May and June 2024, record-breaking heat blanketed parts of the US, Mexico, and Central America. The scorching temperatures resulted in at least 125 deaths in Mexico, in addition to thousands suffering from heat strokes. These devastating effects of climate change correlate with a time of political significance in Mexico, as the country’s general election was held on June 2, 2024. This general election could potentially mark a turning point in Mexico’s climate policy, as President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is a climate scientist who may better honour the aspirations of Mexican citizens aiming to address the climate crisis.

María Teresa Mendoza, director of the Cogra nursing home in Veracruz, Mexico, expressed, “We have never before experienced a heat wave this intense, this powerful, this pervasive and this persistent.” María, along with other caregivers in affected areas, have been struggling to care for and ensure the health of their elderly populations. Other vulnerable populations, such as children and construction workers who spend large amounts of time outside, have also been largely afflicted. Compounding the problem, World Weather Attribution (WWA), a group who quantifies the effects of climate change, claims that as the world continues to burn fossil fuels and emit climate-heating greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, millions more people will be exposed to dangerous levels of heat.

However, despite the seemingly dire climate future ahead, Sheinbaum’s presidency offers hope. Jose Luis Samaniego, World Resources Institute’s executive director for Mexico and Colombia, noted, “I think this [Sheinbaum’s presidency] may reposition Mexico. Not only in the international arena, as going back to a proactive policy on climate, but maybe we will also have the opportunity to show the positive synergies that can exist between social priorities, economic dynamics and lowering the environmental footprint of a country.” Furthermore, Carlos Asúnsolo, director of public policy and research at the Mexican Center for Environmental Law, affirmed, “We have six years to do something significant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fulfil international climate commitments.” 

The WWA estimates that the extreme temperatures experienced across the US, Mexico, and Central America throughout May and June were four times more likely to occur today than 25 years ago. In Mexico and Central America, the effects of this severe heat have intensified poor housing conditions and limited access to cooling services. Extreme heat also threatens the stability of the electricity supply, which is critical to the functioning of healthcare facilities. Furthermore, as climate disasters become increasingly severe, the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley projects 17.1 million people to be internally displaced in Latin America by 2050. Overall, heat-related challenges in Mexico serve as yet another example of how disadvantaged groups disproportionately experience the effects of various global issues, such as climate change. Mexico certainly contributes to climate change on the global scale, as it is the 11th most climate-polluting country in the world, according to Yale Climate Connections. 

 

President-Elect Sheinbaum, with a PhD in environmental engineering, marks a promising time in Mexican history, as she is potentially the most scientifically-experienced climate leader in history. Sheinbaum built her presidential campaign upon promises to boost private investment in renewable energy and deliver rapid action on decarbonisation. Additionally, energy policy championed by Sheinbaum possesses the capability to redirect Mexico’s energy sector toward an “authentically sustainable future” in the words of Inside Climate News. However, many critics also hold reservations about the degree to which Sheinbaum will actually be able to enact change. Mexico’s economy is dependent on fossil fuels, and Sheinbaum remains committed to oil and gas. It will be critical to see who Sheinbaum appoints to key cabinet positions, such as the Secretariat of Energy and the Secretariat of the Environment. To reach equitable solutions that balance both social and economic priorities, Sheinbaum will have to honour the guidance and experiences of both the people and her political predecessors.

Recent international surveys from the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication found that Mexico has one of the highest percentages of citizens worried about human-caused climate change: 92%. This compares to 63% of Americans. However, thus far, Mexico’s leadership has taken insufficient steps towards addressing the climate crisis. With the upcoming presidency of Sheinbaum, 2024 could change the trajectory of Mexico’s climate policy and clean tech. Other significant, climate-specific solutions include shelters for vulnerable populations to cool off, heat health warning systems, heat health action plans, improved legal pathways for climate displaced people, renewable energy-friendly policy, and efforts that address the damage inflicted by globalisation and inequitable free trade, as they lead to issues that are exacerbated by severe heat, such as widespread inequality, diminished food security, and the displacement of workers across Mexico. Overall, these solutions should aim to reduce the escalating ramifications of climate change on marginalised communities. While some of the solutions previously listed are secondary or tertiary solutions that succeed the conflict, efforts should primarily focus on preventive measures that can ensure a more secure and equitable future, as nobody can evade the consequences of global warming. For some of these solutions to practically come to fruition, Sheinbaum will have to strike a balance between continuing the legacy of her political mentors while also encompassing climate-conscious policy. 

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