President López Obrador has defended the government’s plan to incorporate the federal ecology and climate change agency into the Environment Ministry (Semarnat), asserting that its creation was part of a “looting scheme.”
As part of its austerity drive, the government intends to dismantle the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC) and the Mexican Institute of Water Technology in their current form and incorporate them into Semarnat and the National Water Commission, respectively, according to a draft law seen by the newspaper Milenio.
“It can be concluded that the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources can not only enact and lead policy on matters of natural resources, ecology and climate change but implement it on its own without the necessity of contributory bodies,” the draft law states.
Asked about the government’s plan for the INECC at his morning press conference on Thursday, López Obrador said the purpose of eliminating it is to avoid the perpetuation of policies from “the neoliberal period,” which he defines as the 36 years before he took office in December 2018.
The president asserted that many government agencies established in that period didn’t attend to the problems they were created to combat. The forerunner to the INECC, the National Institute of Ecology, was created in 1991. It has a research mandate and has completed various studies over the past eight years on topics such as mitigation of climate change and adaptation to it.
López Obrador said his government has a plan to address environmental problems but would not allow the “looting” of public resources via unnecessary agencies to continue.
“It’s not that we don’t care about the environment, quite the contrary. What we don’t want is … [for people] to take advantage of these causes,” he said.
“[Previous governments] created a constellation of bodies … with public money – money that didn’t reach the [nation’s] poor people. In the best cases [the agencies were created] to analyze reality not transform reality,” López Obrador said.
In addition to the Environment Ministry and the INECC, two or three other agencies were created “for the same thing – to look after the environment,” he said. “Can’t you do that with one?” he asked.
The president also took aim at environmentalists who didn’t speak out when previous governments ravaged the environment.
“How can it be explained that environmentalists, seeing how the country was destroyed in the neoliberal period, didn’t say anything? Do you think that I could be worried if they say that the government isn’t concerned about the environment. I don’t have any problem with my conscience. They are the ones who aren’t concerned about the environment, they’re frauds. … They live well, they even receive money from abroad, from non-governmental organizations, they have good salaries,” he said.
López Obrador also railed against foreign governments that contend they are working to combat climate change but allow the extraction of oil to increase.
“Be careful. In all these climate change issues there is a lot of hypocrisy,” he said. Those who talk up their climate credentials and “even host summits” are authorizing the production of more oil at the same time, López Obrador said.
Mexico, in contrast, is decreasing the amount of oil it extracts, he said.
The president also enumerated a range of other environmentally-friendly government initiatives, including the construction of a huge solar park in Sonora, the tree-planting employment scheme called Sembrando Vida (Sowing Life) and an import ban on genetically modified corn that is not due to take effect until 2024 but which, according to the National Farm Council, is already effectively in force.
While López Obrador touts his environmental credentials, he has faced criticism for his support for the continued use of fossil fuels and antagonism toward private renewable energy companies.
Mexico took second place in the Climate Action Network’s “Fossil of the Day” award at this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, “for pumping more, not less, money into the fossil fuel industry, building oil refineries, and delaying policies aimed at carbon emissions reductions.”