OPINION

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: presidencia.gob.mx

By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS

Apparently the idea of replanting trees to prevent deforestation is a uniquely Mexican concept, conceived by “Mr. Environment Responsibility” himself, aka, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO).

At least, that is what AMLO had the audacity to claim during his morning press rant on Wednesday, Nov. 3.

Asked by one of the few real journalists who attend his daily bully pulpits why he had not bothered to attend this week’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, the president deflected by stating that the reforestation plan signed by more than 100 countries on Tuesday, Nov. 2, came out of his controversial Sembrando Vida (Sewing Life) tree-planting program.

“Since (the COP26) was a meeting on the environment, I am being criticized for not attending,” AMLO said, pointing out that, after all, he had sent Foreign Relations (SRE) Secretary Marcelo Ebrard in his stead.

“But what was the most significant thing to come out of that meeting? It was an agreement to plant trees. And where to you think that idea came from? From Sembrando Vida.”

Indeed, the COP26 summit attendees vowed to end deforestation by 2030 in a landmark, but unbinding, accord that encompasses about 85 percent of the world’s forests (Mexico, by the way, not included).

But while López Obrador may think that the idea of planting saplings to replace felled trees is his own personal brainchild, the concept of reforestation has been around for centuries, with documented government-sponsored programs developed in Germany dating back as far as 1368.

Granted, many of those international efforts to protect forests have failed nearly as badly as AMLO’s Sembrando Vida program.

But let’s start by examining AMLO’s program, which was initiated by the president with plenty of fanfare in 2019 as a means of reactivating Mexico’s rural sector and a promise to replenish the nation’s dwindling forests.

According to reports from more than 230,000 farmers who were paid by the program to plant and tend trees, the Sembrando Vida program has actually led to further deforestation due to delayed plant deliveries, lack of adequate irrigation facilities, a shortage of supplies and tools, and, worst of all, participating growers actually cutting down existing trees in order to replant new ones and receive payments.

So detrimental is Semblando Vida, in fact, that the Washington-based NGO World Resources Institute estimated that it may have caused forest loss of nearly 800 square kilometers of land during the program’s first year alone.

Even according to the Mexican government’s own figures, the Sembrando Vidas program fell short of its 600,000 hectare target in 2020, planting trees on just 150,000 hectares of land.

And while AMLO has tried to peddle his hapless Sembrando Vida plan to Washington with the idea that the United States pay for its expansion into Central America, most international environmental groups have warned of its counterproductive results, while labeling another of his “big initiatives,” an electricity reform that would prioritize carbon-based energy sources over clean ones, as “one of the biggest ecological threats to the planet’s future.”

But while Mexico notably lags behind in its promised conservation goals — currently sourcing only 24 percent of its energy from clean sources, in sharp contrast to its Paris Agreement commitments to up its clean energy production to 43 percent by 2030 — AMLO prefers to see himself as a tree-hugging environmentalist who is pioneering the way to a cleaner Earth.

His administration claims to have invested $1.3 billion a year in Sembrando Vida, although there have been countless allegations and law suits suggesting that the program’s funding  has not always gone toward reforestation efforts.

But getting back to his Wednesday morning press conference, after proclaiming himself “the most environmental-consciencious president on Earth,” López Obrador then turned his daily diatribe against the world leaders who attended the COP26, calling them hypocritical for having arrived in private planes and yachts.

He assured his audience that when he visits the United Nations later this month to give a spiel on fighting global poverty that he would not arrive in a presidential plane, thus making him much more environmentally responsible than his international counterparts.

Clearly, AMLO could use with a bit more schooling when it comes to what environmental stewardship is all about.

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