Public Pressure Can Bring Environmental Reform in Mexico

Arguably, there has never been a more significant moment in world history when the numerous threats posed by climate change have risen to the forefront of global polity; shared concern with seemingly one voice is causing seismic shifts to world markets while forcing country on country to respectively look inward as to how best they can realign domestic policy to ensure a better tomorrow.

For the Republic of Mexico, its reflection bodes ill. Way back in 1992, the United Nations declared Mexico City the most polluted urban center in the world, a fact that presented major environmental and socioeconomic problems, issues that trickled down to afflict tourism and international trade. Worse yet, according to recent figures raised by the Institute of Geography of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the country loses roughly 500,000 hectares (1.23 million acres) per year of forestation. Government data has determined that at least 17% of Mexico’s surface is totally eroded.

As global market consumption rises for precious wood, water, minerals and textiles, with a majority of demand brought about by rising a China, Mexico must act. The country needs to assess and reevaluate ecological intervention proposals and its challenges pertaining to deforestation and air pollution. In the spirit of anti-corruption and defeating “eco-corruption,” Mexico must name and shame those who would perpetuate a status quo that besmirches the reputation of this perpetually emerging market.

“Eco-corruption” in particular is a dangerous narrative that Mexico has long avoided addressing. But change has come.

There are the usual suspects, organizations such as Pemex, the state-owned petroleum company, wherein five of Mexico’s six Pemex oil refineries are among the 25 top polluters in the world for sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, verified by NASA satellites in 2018. Then there are ideologically driven organizations, like the Individualidades Tendiendo a lo Salvaje (ITS), or Individuals Tending to the Wild.

Despite beliefs that Mexican scientists must pay for what they are doing to the Earth, over the past few years, Mexican scientists involved in bio- and nanotechnology, many with renewable energy application intent, have become targets of ITS — not by drug cartels or corrupt police officers, but by bomb-building, anti-eco-terrorists, with the self-professed goal of destroying human civilization.

ITS has taken responsibility for a recent failed bombing attempt against a researcher at the Biotechnology Institute at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. And the group promises more.

Then there are organizations such as PetroquĂ­mica Mexicana de Vinilo (PMC), a public-private petrochemical company and direct contributor to Mexico’s environmental degradation. A 2016 explosion at a petrochemical plant in southeast Mexico that left 32 dead and 136 injured has highlighted the need to strengthen monitoring of hazardous substances and for Mexico to step-up regular inspections of factories and update regulations across the country.

PMC nonetheless continues to produce approximately 170,000 tons a year of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), which generates dioxins and furans, environmental pollutants that belong to the infamous “dirty dozen” — a group of highly dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

By 2024, Mexico plans to have a program in place to monitor POPs in the atmosphere and to gauge the economic costs of these pollutants to the environment and even human health. The world is watching.

But then there are individuals like Juan Carlos Madero Larios, an adviser to Tax Administration Service (SAT) head Raquel Buenrostro, of Mexico’s Customs and International Affairs Administration. Larios directly contributed to the deforestation of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas by reportedly allowing the illegal export of large quantities of lumber, resources which would predominantly and inevitably find themselves in China. In similar circles, it is known that he contributed to the near-extinction of the sea cucumber in Mexico, by so too allowing the animal’s unabated illegal export. It has been reported that one of the organizations with whom he is affiliated smuggles diesel pipes abroad which are illegally declared as “light oil” and thus not only contribute to the environmental degradation and air pollution problem in-country and elsewhere, but in being labelled as such, avoid Mexican taxation.

Mexico requires greater accountability and a collective public sector response to an environmental threat no longer deemed existential. The good news is that Mexico is today seeking to lead Latin America’s efforts to protect the environment through a myriad of new initiatives, many backed by U.N. support.

While it has been argued that the country may not currently have the necessary laws in place to preserve its environment, there is growing cohesion in public awareness and even political hostility toward perceived environmental negligence and the perpetrators of it in Mexico.

It is in that country’s hands to make an example of Mexico’s commitment to greater environmental reform, transparency and pursuit of accountability. It is in our hands to help Mexico foster lasting change.

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