Mexico’s ruling party picks climate scientist for presidential run

Mexico is set for a green shift, as climate scientist Claudia Sheinbaum faces pro-renewables senator Xóchitl Gálvez in next June’s elections

Claudia Sheinbaum: a climate scientist for the presidential run

Climate scientist Claudia Sheinbaum is likely to be Mexico's next president (Photo: Maritza Ríos / Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México)


Mexico’s governing Morena party has named Claudia Sheinbaum, a climate scientist, as its presidential candidate in the elections of June 2024 — a moment that could mark a turning point from the current administration’s pro-fossil fuel policies.

Sheinbaum will run against senator Xóchitl Gálvez, who was named candidate of the opposition coalition last weekend and who is also pro-renewables.

One of them will almost certainly succeed current president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is unable to run again. Sheinbaum, who comes from the same left-wing party as López Obrador and will benefit from his popularity, is the favourite.

During his time in office, López Obrador prioritised “energy sovereignty”, which has manifested in support for Pemex, the most indebted state oil company in the world, while building a $15 billion oil refinery in Tabasco and closing off options for private investment in renewable energy.

Wind and solar are  particularly cheap in Mexico, but private investment has slumped since López Obrador took office in 2018.“Energy is energy,” said María José de Villafranca, an analyst at the New Climate Institute.

“They could invest public money in renewable energy and this wouldn’t take away from the sovereignty. But we haven’t seen this from the government. It’s a missed opportunity.”

Net zero?

Mexico is one of only two G20 countries not to have set net zero emission targets, and the climate plan it announced last year at Cop27 was criticised by Climate Action Tracker for being worse than its previous one.

There is some hope that Sheinbaum, given her contributions to reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on tackling climate change, could take a different approach as president.

“She has been very careful not to go against the current president’s vision, but she has suggested that her vision for renewables energies is somewhat distinct,” said Carlos Ramírez, a political analyst. “And this has created some hope that her policies as president would be different.”

As mayor of Mexico City, Sheinbaum promoted rooftop solar and cycle and public transport infrastructure.

As president, she says she would accelerate the development of renewables, with state investment in lithium extraction and solar plants in Sonora, a state in northern Mexico.

But she has also defended López Obrador’s fossil fuel policies and shares his belief that Pemex and CFE, the state electricity company, should be architects of the country’s energy policy.

“I think she will try to do something in between, giving more weight to renewables while also maintaining the policies around Pemex and CFE,” said Ramírez. “What will become of this Frankenstein, I’m not sure.”

The opposition

On the other side, Gálvez has made the shift to renewable energy a central part of her pitch for the presidency.

She says she will end “the addiction to fossil fuels” while opening the way for the private sector to sell cheap clean energy.

Private investors would likely heed the call if Gálvez came to power, not least because of the near-shoring boom that is rerouting US supply chains from Asia to Mexico.

According to manufacturers, one of the main limiting factors on this phenomenon is the lack of readily available clean energy, which many need to fulfil their environmental commitments.

“Both [Sheinbaum and Gálvez] will use the flag of renewable energies,” said Ramírez. “They already have, in many interviews. Because they know that it’s something that really matters, particularly for young people. It cuts through.”

Whether that talk turns into action once the election is decided is another matter. “And in the case of Sheinbaum, there will be a lot of political pressure to continue on the same path as López Obrador.”

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