22 October 2017

From oil rich to low carbon

Options Winter 2017/18: Q&A with IIASA postdoc Katya Perez Guzman.

© Matthias Schramm

© Matthias Schramm

Q What led to your interest in public policy and environmental issues?

A Nature has fascinated me since childhood. We can only continue to benefit from nature if we consider it in socioeconomic development. As a researcher, I seek to find ways to ensure a harmonious relationship between nature, people, and economic growth.

The experience I had when working at a Mexican non governmental organization (the Mexican Centre for Environmental Law) after my undergraduate studies led me to the realization of how important it is to complement advocacy efforts with informed science, as well as engaging
different actors to achieve desired changes in policies and environmental management.

Q Why are these issues particularly important in Mexico?

A Mexico is one of the largest fossil fuel producers and exporters in the world. The economy of the country heavily relies on income from oil. Earnings from oil were high in the 1980s and 1990s, and were re-invested to produce more oil. But in recent years, revenue from oil has declined due to falling production and low prices on the international market. This trend is also seen in Venezuela and Nigeria, leading to political and economic instability and affecting the provision of social services.

This extraction of fossil fuel leads to high CO2 emissions, and locally fossil fuels are also used to generate highly subsidized electricity, again driving emissions up.

Q What can the country do to move forward?

A The Mexican government must dedicate investment towards cleaner technologies and clean energy such as solar and wind. Doing so will ensure energy production goes on but with lower emissions.

In terms of climate change mitigation, the country needs to map out the barriers to achieving a low carbon economy. This is one of the directions of my study while at IIASA, where I am focusing partly on the “carbon curse”—the theory that fuel-rich countries are doomed to high CO2 emissions per unit of GDP. The curse entails several economic, political, and social mechanisms by which oil revenues can affect a country, preventing it from attaining sustainable development.

Mexico is also highly vulnerable to changes in precipitation patterns and increasing drought. The use of oil revenues to increase the country’s resilience could cushion it from the negative impacts of climate change. At IIASA I am developing a measure of the carbon curse to help policymakers to determine how close an oil-extractive economy can get to being a low carbon economy.

Q You also examine the “natural resource curse”—where the exploitation of natural assets can actually be detrimental to the economies of developing countries. Is it possible for countries to avoid this path?

A Botswana, a country rich in diamonds, is a good example demonstrating that this route can be avoided. But this requires governments to put firm structures and policies in place as well as transparency in the management of revenue from natural wealth. Diversifying and strengthening other economic sectors can also help.

Text by Caroline Njoki

More information

Katya Perez Guzman is an IIASA-Mexico postdoc, funded by the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) and IIASA, in the IIASA Advanced Aystems Analysis Program. Her research focuses on how oil-rich countries can achieve sustainable development.

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Last edited: 10 November 2017


Katya Perez Guzman

Research Scholar

Cooperation and Transformative Governance Research Group|Exploratory Modeling Of Human-Natural Systems Research Group|Strategic Initiatives Program

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Options Winter 2017/18

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