State of the Planet

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Mexico’s Climate Change Law

By Juan Carlos de Obeso

Tuesday June 5th of 2012 will be remembered as a key date in the annals of climate change legislation. On this day Mr. Felipe Calderon, President of Mexico, signed a decree that enacted the General Climate Change Law, which had been previously approved by the Senate and the Deputy chamber. With his signature, Mexico became one of the few developing countries to have a domestic law specifically created to address climate change with a holistic approach.

A lot has been written about the law since April when the Senate approved it.  Most of these articles focused on the emissions reduction target of 30% by 2020 (50% by 2050) contained within the bill, or the 35% share of electricity from low carbon sources by 2024 (here, here, here). These two points, while important and ambitious, only appear at the end of the document (full document, in spanish) and had already been announced or enacted in other legislative pieces and international agreements. The emissions target was part of Mexico’s Copenhagen Pledge, although this agreement  was not legally binding. The share of low carbon sources of electricity is embedded in the Renewable Energy and Energetic Transition law of 2008 (full document, in spanish), which requires that 35% of electricity come from non-fossil fuels in 2024, 40% in 2030, and 50% in 2050

So if the main issues that have attracted all the headlines only appear at the very end of the document, and had been already announced one way or another, what is the climate change law really about?

The General Climate Change Law is a legal framework that will serve as the foundations from which Mexico will develop its national climate change policy.  In order to achieve the objectives that the law establishes several Federal bodies will be created, including the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC). These newly formed bodies will have the task of developing a holistic mitigation and adaptation national policy, developing an information system of climate change indicators, and elaborating the national inventory of GHG emissions. To achieve these objectives they will collaborate directly with the ministries of Environment, Interior, Agriculture, Energy, Health, Social Development, Finance and the head of the National Science and Technology Council.

The law also establishes the Climate Change Fund with the objective of raising funds from public and private entities for the implementation of adaptation plans. For the mitigation efforts, the law calls for the previously mentioned emission cuts and renewable energy targets, as well as the establishment of a national registry of GHG emissions for stationary and mobile sources that exceed certain threshold (to be determined). This registry will be used to keep track of the emissions across different sectors, as well as identifying the areas that can yield the maximum reduction in the most cost effective way.  On top of all of this, the law also opens the door to financial mechanisms that can help reduce emissions such as cap and trade systems, tax rebates, and subsidies for low carbon energy projects.

This recently approved law is just the first step towards an ambitious climate change program in Mexico. The National Climate Change Policy still needs to be developed following the principles established in the bill.

Overall, with this new law Mexico is leading the way on Climate Change Policy in the developing world.  The objectives established pose major challenges for a country that heavily subsidizes an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, but it lays the legal and financial foundations that can be used to address the climate problem.


A previous version of this post said that Mexico was the first developing country with a holistic Climate Change Law. This was not correct as Brazil approved its National Policy on Climate Change in 2009. Thanks to Marina Schurr, who pointed this out.

The Author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Climate and Society at Columbia University. During his time in Columbia Juan Carlos has collaborated with the Columbia Climate Center in the improvement of the greenhouse emission model used to simulate impact of emission reduction policies worldwide, with the ultimate goal of quantifying how these efforts shape the global CO2 emissions profile. Juan Carlos is a native of Guadalajara, Mexico.

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Marina Schurr
Marina Schurr
11 years ago

It is very important that the major developing countries start to internalize the need of rethinking development and growth in a greener and safer way and doind so by establishing national laws in essential.
But I would like to correct something mentioned in the article: Mexico was not the first developing country to addopt a national regulation regarding climate change, as Brazil had its National Policy on Climate Change approved in 2009 and is now (2012) establishing its sector plans to coop with the GHG emissions reductions established by the national policy. The National Policy, by the way, was the product of a intense engagement of academia, government and civil society representatives that came up with the document that later on was going to be appoved.

George Torrichelli
11 years ago

I have mixed feelings about this. First off, it would be a huge challenge for the country, as it is still such a hydrocarbon-dependent economy with gigantic commitments to hydrocarbon industry infrastructure. I find it highly questionable that renewable/clean energy will ever have a huge imprint in Mexico