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President López Obrador and El Salvador President Nayib Bukele in 2019 celebrating expanding the Sembrando Vida program to address Central American migration. President López Obrador and El Salvador President Nayib Bukele in 2019 celebrating expanding the Sembrando Vida program to address Central American migration.

Environmentalists say López Obrador’s climate proposal is throwback to the past

President champions outdated, impractical ideas, say experts

Proposals that President López Obrador presented Thursday at this week’s Leaders Summit on Climate are not serious, based on ideology more than reality, and hark back to decades past, according to three environmentalists.

On top of that, a senior U.S. official on Wednesday rejected the notion that immigration reform could be tied to a reforestation plan in Central America.

Speaking at the two-day summit being hosted virtually by United States President Joe Biden, López Obrador said on Thursday that Mexico will discontinue exporting crude oil and use its reserves to meet domestic demand for fuel. In addition, he indicated that hydroelectric plants are being upgraded to reduce the use of fuel oil or coal in electricity production.

But the central message of the president’s remarks to the summit was an invitation to President Biden to support the expansion of Mexico’s Sembrando Vida program (Sowing Life) in southeastern Mexico and Central America by planting 3 billion trees and creating 1.2 million jobs.

“We will cover our financial responsibility and commit ourselves to help with the productive and social organization, and you, President Biden, could finance the Sowing Life program in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.”

López Obrador offered “a complementary proposal” in which participants could apply for a temporary work visa from the U.S. once they had spent three years planting trees. After another three or four years they could obtain residency in the U.S. or dual citizenships, he suggested.

“Migration, as we all know, is not resolved with coercive measures, but rather with justice and well-being. In addition, you, President Biden, are a sensitive man and you know that the migrant’s desire to work and get ahead is key to the development of nations. Great nations have been made with migrants, with these exceptional beings. It’s a matter of organizing the flow of migrants and channeling them humanely and with practical judgment,” López Obrador said.

The president announced on Sunday his intention to propose the immigration-tree planting scheme and ask Biden for the U.S. to legally and financially support the expansion of Mexico’s tree-planting employment program.

For environmentalists in Mexico, the climate change aspects of the president’s proposals are old and outdated.

In an interview with the newspaper Reforma, the research coordinator at the Mexican Center for Environmental Law said the proposal to increase energy generation with hydroelectric plants dates back to the 1960s.

“It was in the ’70s when the development model was focused on the fossil fuels sector,” Anaid Velasco added. “That’s why I believe that with these proposals, we’re going back to the beginning.”

Velasco asserted that the federal government has abandoned plans to support a transition to clean, renewable energy in Mexico.

Indeed, the government has legislated to make it more difficult for private, renewable companies to operate in the Mexican energy market.

Daniel Chacón, director of energy at the Mexico Climate Initiative, told Reforma that López Obrador’s proposals are not serious.

Even when there is no drought — more than 70% of the country is currently in drought — hydroelectric plants generate no more than 17% of the energy Mexico needs, he said. Chacón also said that hydroelectric plants can cause problems such as flooding and water shortages.

The worst aspect of the proposals, he added, is that the president believes that future generations will need to continue using oil. That view is at odds with the global push to phase out the use of fossil fuels, Chacón said.

A Pemex oil refinery in Tula, Hidalgo
A Pemex oil refinery in Tula, Hidalgo

Last May, a NASA report on its satellite monitoring revealed that five Pemex refineries were among the world’s top polluters for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions.

The environmentalist said that Mexico is currently only refining 584,000 barrels of oil per day but is generating 200,000 barrels per day of fuel oil (obtained during the refining process), which has been used by the Federal Electricity Commission to generate electricity despite the high levels of contamination it causes.

“What’s going to happen when we refine 2 million barrels per day? There will be 600,000 barrels of fuel oil per day, but they banned fuel oil as fuel for ships, so I believe that they’re planning to burn it in the thermal power stations as was done in the past,” Chacón said.

“They’re advising the president poorly. … They’re making decisions based more on ideological or political points of view than on reality,” he said.

Sergio Rivera, director of the environmental organization Calixaxan, said the proposal to extend the tree-planting scheme to Central America cannot be taken seriously.

He warned that the program won’t help to contain migration, as López Obrador claims it will, and questioned its reforestation credentials. Sembrando Vida has in fact been accused of encouraging deforestation.

“They’re paying 5,000 pesos [US $250] a month to farmers who are only looking for money; that’s their only interest, and the proof is that they’ve deforested plots of land [to qualify],” Rivera said.

According to Reforma, the United States is not interested in López Obrador’s proposal to extend Sembrando Vida to Central America.

Reforma quoted an unnamed high-ranking United States official as saying that the U.S. won’t consider migration reform and climate change as a joint issue.

“This is not a conversation about migration but rather a conversation about climate change,” the official told international journalists at a briefing on the agenda for the Leaders Summit on Climate.

“We’re not focused on the interaction of issues. For us, the climate agenda must be considered by itself, on its own merits.”

Source: Reforma (sp) 

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