The Challenge of Sustainable Development in Mexico

Article excerpt


Mexico is among the most developed of all the Latin American nations. With a total population of 95.9 million by mid-1998 [1] and GNP per capita of $3,970 USD, it belongs to the upper-middle income range of Latin American countries. Mexico has re-structured its economy largely through trade liberalisation and reform, strong industrialisation, prudent fiscal and monetary policies and deregulation (Ros et al. 1996). Ever since the late 1940s and until the crisis of 1994, Mexico's growth performance was considered bold and impressive. Economic growth rates of close to 7% per year and increases in per-capita income of 3% during this period (Ros et al. 1996) led many to believe this growth would be sustainable. However, by 1982, Mexico was immersed in an economic crisis whose effects were felt strongly in several areas including the environment, the economy, and social welfare. These effects were very negative and contrasted sharply with the world-wide launch of the sustainable development movement (1987). Mexico had to deal, therefore, with two interrelated challenges to sustainable development: economic recovery and environmental degradation.

In this chapter, we address the challenges to sustainable development (SD) faced by Mexico. We begin by briefly outlining the history of SD, both world-wide and in Mexico, from the early stages of Stockholm (1972) to Agenda 21 (1992) and Rio+5 (1997). We then present a few selected indicators of sustainable development in Mexico. This set of indicators related to SD was developed specifically for Mexico and contains data from 1984 to 1999. We believe that these indicators may prove useful in designing sustainability strategies because they quantify environmental, social and political conditions related to sustainable development. However, their usefulness is somewhat limited because of the difficulty in comparing developing vis-a-vis developed countries. Each nation has unique issues and circumstances and therefore may not be compared without thoroughly analysing the implications of those indicators. Having said that, these SD indicators are nonetheless useful because they help to describe the correlation be tween the environment and development. There is promise that further research will help refine these measurements (Jing-zhu and Opschoor 1999).

There are several dimensions to the sustainability challenge: economic, social, political and institutional, among others. After reviewing Mexico's SD indicators, we then turn to a specific dimension: the legal and institutional framework. Analysing the legal framework has become a relevant issue in Mexico since the enactment of a constitutional right to sustainable development and an adequate environment. This is a major breakthrough in Mexican environmental and constitutional law because it enables a citizen to sue on a constitutional foundation for his right to an adequate environment. This may lead to stronger enforcement of environmental regulations and, therefore, in the long run to a more sustainable future.

We take the theoretical stance that SD is a multidimensional issue that cannot be addressed solely on the basis of economic, social or political issues, but rather as a whole. We must, however, state clearly that it is our belief that extreme poverty and social inequity play an important role that must be addressed by Mexican sustainability strategies. We conclude this chapter with a reflection that should prove fertile ground for further research, keeping in mind that SD is an idealistic goal (Pacheco-Vega 1997).


While there are economic and physical limits to the supply of nonrenewable resources, even so-called renewable resources face serious threats to their continued supply. The accelerated use of these resources generates environmental problems. Pollution renders streams and aquifers unusable. Irresponsible logging leads to erosion and loss of habitat for many species. …


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