Mexico: New report "Human Rights for a Just Energy Transition" highlights regression of climate action and human rights
With human rights and the State's obligations in this matter as a reference point, this report analyses some of the energy policy decisions taken by the Mexican government in the last two years. These decisions are part of a constitutional and legal reform on energy implemented by the government that preceded it; it is a reform that has not been reviewed in substance and its impacts on human rights are of concern to civil society organisations. Therefore, after referring to some background information, we review the current situation and the rights violated or at risk of being violated by public policies and decisions taken on energy issues. We also review the most severely impacted population groups, especially those that historically suffer structural conditions of discrimination and vulnerability.
We conclude the report by making some recommendations aimed at promoting a just energy transition, with a human rights, intersectional and gender perspective which contributes to the measures we could and should take as a country in the face of the global climate emergency.
Impacts of energy policy on human rights and population groups addressed in the Report
- The exploration, extraction and use of fossil fuels encouraged by energy policy lead to the deterioration and loss of ecosystems, overexploit and pollute water sources, impact the quality of air, soil and land, and worsen the climate crisis, all of which severely affect the right to a healthy environment, the right to health, the right to food, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to water of present and future generations, including the rights of children and youth.
- Most of the regulatory and public policy instruments on energy were approved in an expeditious manner without enough information or adequate consultation and participation mechanisms, violating the right to self-determination and other rights of indigenous peoples and communities, and failing to comply with the rights to information, participation and justice in environmental matters of all people protected by the Escazú Agreement ratified by Mexico.
- The activities of private and public companies in the extractive-energy sector also negatively impact the rights of workers, especially in terms of occupational health, freedom of association and safety at work.
- The climate emergency affects all people, but its impacts deepen structural gender inequalities and exacerbate intersecting forms of discrimination, especially affecting the rights of women who often suffer the consequences of climate change disproportionately compared to men.
- Mexico is the second country in Latin America (only behind Honduras) with the second highest percentage of abuses (27%) related to the right to land and territory, the right to defend human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples in renewable energy projects. The exercising of the human right to defend human rights has become more risky in the face of energy projects. Of 39 attacks on environmental defenders in 2019, 20.5% are related to electric power projects.
Energy policy, like all public policies, must be harmonised and congruent with the Mexican State's constitutional and treaty obligations to respect, protect, promote and guarantee human rights, as well as to prevent, redress and punish violations, rather than restricting, hindering or affecting these rights. In this way, when designing and implementing public policies and agreements for investment, production, distribution and use of energy, the State must ensure, regulate and monitor that the activity of public and private companies is respectful and in accordance with human rights due diligence.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights state that States are responsible for setting the expectations and rules to which their public and private companies are obliged to adhere. They must also take additional protective measures when it is within their control to ensure respect for human rights by the entities that carry out their state policies. This also means ensuring that their laws and regulations "do not restrict, but rather promote respect for human rights", including those that are economic in nature and that shape business practices.
The United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, in the framework of its visit to Mexico in 2016, stated that the energy sector and mega-projects are among those which require the most attention in this area. Furthermore, Principle 22 states that "if companies have generated or contributed to negative impacts, they should remedy them or contribute to their remedy through legitimate means". This point is particularly relevant when it comes to public companies.
Aiming to promote crucial steps to address the climate emergency and advance a just energy transition, with a human rights, intersectional and gender perspective, we formulate the following Recommendations to the Mexican State:
1. Increase the level of climate ambition reflected in its Nationally Determined Contribution to meet its climate change and human rights obligations established in the international treaties to which Mexico is a party. To this end, it is necessary to articulate comprehensive and coordinated responses among the three levels of government to address the magnitude of the climate emergency, without concentrating most of the available efforts and resources only in a few priority programmes with limited scope objectives.
2. Adopt effective measures to limit anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (climate mitigation measures), including measures to regulate the consumption and production of fossil fuels, in order to halt and prevent further human rights impacts from the adverse effects of climate change.
3. Take advantage of the potential of the national territory to develop renewable energy projects that allow it to ensure the sustainability and security of the national energy system, as well as to advance in the decarbonisation of the energy matrix, ensuring that in the extraction of inputs, construction of infrastructure, development and implementation of projects there is adequate planning and evaluation with criteria of sustainability, gender equality and non-discrimination and with strict adherence to the respect and guarantee of human rights.
4. Strengthen climate transparency by guaranteeing access to information and reporting annually on performance and operation in the energy sector.
5. Regulate the duty of due diligence on human rights and the environment for the execution of renewable energy projects, addressing private companies and the State as an economic actor.
6. Allocate the maximum available resources to effective and clearly oriented measures to fight climate change and protect the environment. Accordingly, the more than 15 billion pesos planned in the PPEF 2022 for projects involving fracking should be reallocated with environmental and human rights criteria.
7. Promote and generate appropriate incentives to attract investment to support energy development and transition based on human rights, gender equality and diverse participation, including citizenship and communities; this includes encouraging other diverse energy production schemes, such as distributed energy or community generation that can be produced at the same site of consumption and by the same people who require it, helping to reduce energy poverty in towns and communities and advance the democratisation of energy, based on effective, broad and inclusive participation processes.
8. Ensure that the energy transition is conceived not only as a technical process to change from one form of energy to another, but as a structural transformation of the sector based on environmental principles, human rights, including labour rights and gender equality, taking care to promote renewable energies that do not reproduce the extractive practices whose effects have been widely documented. In the same vein, for a just energy transition, a public policy for labour transition that protects the rights of workers must be designed.
9. Incorporate an intersectional policy of non-discrimination and with a gender perspective applicable to the entire energy sector, in order to prevent the sector from contributing to exacerbating structural conditions of discrimination and marginalisation of vulnerable groups and to take into account their specific needs, experiences and contributions in the articulation of energy policies and the fight against climate change.
10. Adopt effective measures to implement the obligations acquired in the Escazú Agreement throughout the national territory, with special emphasis on indigenous communities and similar groups, as well as human rights defenders.
11. Address and redress harm in cases of disproportionate impacts caused by climate change and the activities of the fossil fuel extractive industry on marginalised communities and groups in the country.
12. Review and harmonise national energy legislation and regulations in accordance with the highest human rights standards. Also, initiate a legislative process to ensure that climate justice is treated and enacted as a fundamental human right related to habitat, environment and intergenerational justice.