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date: 11 December 2017

Environmental Economic Instruments in Mexico

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Please check back later for the full article.

While most attention on the use of economic instruments for environmental protection has centered on their applications in industrialized countries, middle-income countries have made important inroads as well. Among them, Mexico stands out for its application to the agenda of a wide array of green and brown issues. Starting in 2001, with the introduction of fees to access natural protected areas, followed in 2003, with the establishment of the Payment for Ecosystems Services program for forests, and then in 2014, the introduction of the environmental tax on pesticides, the use of complementary price signals through the fiscal system has sought to influence, in a decentralized manner, the decisions of both consumers and resource owners towards protecting key elements of Mexico’s natural capital. As the central promise from economic instruments is to reduce compliance costs of reaching a certain goal by providing flexibility on how to meet individual obligations, the use of market-based mechanisms in regulations has also been explored with some success in Mexico. Partial incorporation of such a mechanism was applied to the design of its national Federal Fuel Efficiency standards for automobiles, by redefining compliance as meeting a corporate average standard starting from 2006 onwards. More recently, full use of market mechanisms was introduced, in 2016, into the strategy to reach Mexico’s Clean Energy requirement goals. The demonstration by utilities of compliance with the milestone of the national 2024 goal of 35% share of clean energy in power generation can be done either by holding or purchasing Clean Energy Certificates in their secondary market. This allows utilities to separate the decision to purchase energy at the lowest cost, and to meet environmental requirements, also at their lowest cost.

Both tax and market mechanisms are converging with Mexico’s Climate Change policy. The Fiscal Reform of 2014 introduced Mexico’s first explicit carbon tax in the form of an excise tax applied to fossil fuels, just as its G20 commitments to phase-out negative carbon pricing (i.e., fossil fuel subsidies) were being fulfilled. With price signals pushing towards more energy efficiency and a lower carbon footprint for the economy, Mexico is on the right track for carbon pricing and is showing leadership at a global scale. It will be interesting to observe how this will mix with a proposed cap-and-trade carbon mechanism, obviously touted as a complementary instrument. The establishment of such a mechanism to meet the emission reduction goals of Mexico’s Climate Change legislation and international commitments is the subject of intense debate and analysis. It represents an interesting decision point for a middle-income country such as Mexico, where all costs are local in nature, the emissions per capita are at the world’s average, and indirect benefits of the energy transition are only partial. In the political economy debate, the linkage to international markets, such as California and Quebec, is not only an option but a central motivation to launch the market, as gains from trade are the driving force.