No progress to date for the SDGs

Areli Sandoval Terán (Espacio DESCA) with the collaboration of Nathalie Seguin Tovar (FANMex)
Endorsed by Space for articulation of civil society for the follow-up of the 2030 Agenda in Mexico

ESCR Committee Recommendation to Mexico on the 2030 Agenda

In March 2018, after examining Mexico’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights approved among its final observations a recommendation on the priority of human rights and social participation when implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the national level. The Committee also stressed that the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals are not an end in themselves, but tools for the ultimate goal of realizing human rights, and asked the Mexican State to integrate the final observations into the work of the National Council of the 2030 Agenda.

If the Mexican Government takes these recommendations seriously, it could trace an effective implementation route for the 2030 Agenda, but current policies are far from what is needed, as can be seen from the following analysis.1

Obstacles and Challenges for the Implementation of SDGs in Mexico

Little progress has been made in the substantive implementation of the 2030 Agenda in Mexico. While the Government has taken some important steps reported in its 2018 Voluntary National Review (VNR) to the High Level Political Forum (HLPF), its implementation has been slow and poor. The most regrettable thing is that structural obstacles persist to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which we have been warning about since 2016, since the State does not fully comply with its constitutional and conventional human rights obligations.

In the VNR report on SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12 and 15,2 we find elements of diagnosis, emblematic actions and challenges in which triumphalist data predominate, which do not correspond to what the SDGs request and have omissions in the recognition of problems and challenges, which does not favour the adoption of appropriate and effective measures to achieve the 2030 Agenda. The VNR states that although the challenges are great, Mexico has assumed a State commitment to achieve the SDGs in the year 2030. Nevertheless, various decisions in the 2013-2018 period in economic, mining, energy and environmental matters, reveal a State commitment to transnational capital and extractive activities, boosted not only by fiscal incentives and administrative facilities, but also by the weakening of the national framework of environmental protection and the deliberate non-observance of human rights standards and obligations, even propitiating their violation.

Extractive activities have Government priority. According to FUNDAR: "As of December 2017, a total of 24,709 mining concessions in force were located on the land surface of the country, covering 20.79 million hectares... Despite its high environmental impact, mining concessions are granted without taking into account the ecosystemic integrity of the region or the existing land cover ... The territory destined for the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons is extremely extensive and diverse, encompassing 11 marine ecoregions and 48 terrestrial ecoregions, distributed in ten entities and the Gulf of Mexico. Over 6 million people inhabit these areas and their livelihoods depend on the ecosystems that provide them with environmental services. However, according to the Hydrocarbons Law, the exploration and extraction of fossil fuels take precedence over any other activity or use of the territory."3

SDG 6: Water and sanitation for all
The VNR states that Mexico has high coverage of drinking water, sewage and wastewater treatment services; but as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights to drinking water and sanitation stated in his mission to Mexico in May 2017, the positive indicators of national coverage only indicate the existence of some form of infrastructure, and not access to a sufficient amount of water, continuous, of good quality and affordable for personal and domestic use, or to acceptable, dignified and safe sanitation facilities.4 The United Nations Joint Monitoring Programme reported that if the three variables used to measure indicator SDG 6.1 were considered, the national water coverage in Mexico would actually be 43 percent.5

The Government reports percentages of wastewater treatment but fails to point out its insufficiency and deficiency; municipal and industrial wastewater contaminate water bodies since the collected water can be discharged into the public network, or septic tank or often drains drainage to the soil and contaminates water currents, lakes or the sea. Two of the most toxic rivers in the country, the Santiago in Jalisco and the Atoyac in Tlaxcala, have been polluted by municipal and industrial discharges without adequate treatment.6

The VNR highlights the National Network for Monitoring Water Quality among emblematic actions but omits the limitations of the indicators and the lack of updating of official Mexican standards in the matter. It also omits budget cuts, such as the 65.7 percent cut to the Potable Water, Sewerage and Sanitation Programme in 2017.7

Although it does recognize the overexploitation of aquifers and basins, the State perpetuates an obsolete and unsustainable water management model that will not allow compliance with SDG 6. The National Water Commission grants thousands of concessions even in hydrological basins and deficient aquifers, allowing overexploitation. For example, for three decades, in the Cuenca de la Independencia, north of Guanajuato, agroindustries and industrial parks have made intensive use of water, depleting and polluting the basin, and decreasing access to quality water for human consumption.8 In this context, it is worrying that ten presidential decrees promulgated on 5 June 2018, have changed the labelling of important areas from total and partial closure into reserve zones ending the ban to use water, which is now allowed, even by private parties, if the authorities consider it "of public interest".9

SDG 7: Access to energy for all
The VNR acknowledges that Mexico faces a large dependence on fossil fuels that represent 79.7 percent of the generation of energy and points out that there are initiatives to increase the production of sustainable energy. But the national energy matrix is ​​not even going to begin its transformation in the terms conceived in the 2030 Agenda, because beyond the discourse of the energy transition, the Government priority is in the implementation of conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon exploitation projects in the framework of the constitutional reform on energy matters of 2013 and its secondary laws of 2014, which established injurious, obstructive and regressive provisions in terms of human rights and a regime of exception in terms of environmental regulation for oil and gas activities.10

In addition, the Government issued administrative provisions in 2017 that supposedly allow companies to "responsibly develop" the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons in unconventional deposits, which use the unsustainable and dangerous technique of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Yet a recent report11 has shown that "with the materials and technology that are available at this time, the engineering problems inherent in this method cannot be avoided, which include anthropogenic earthquakes, methane leaks and deterioration of the lining and cementing of wells," with high risk of contaminating subsoil and aquifers, in addition to the intensive use of water to produce the fracturing liquid, which subsequently is impossible to handle properly. Likewise, "the medical and public health literature endorsed by experts has not found evidence that hydraulic fracturing can be carried out in a way that does not endanger human health.”

It is not clear which "advanced and less polluting fossil fuel technologies" are referred to by target 7.a of SDG 7, but ultimately hydraulic fracturing could not be considered one of them, because with its irreversible and irreparable damages it is not consistent with SDG 6 and its target 6.3 to improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing the emission of chemicals and hazardous materials.

SDG 11: Inclusive and sustainable cities and human settlements
The VNR notes that about three quarters of the Mexican population lives in urban settlements, most of which face various obstacles to implementing inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable urban development plans and that many settlements are also highly vulnerable to natural disasters. Although it also recognizes problems of lack of access to basic services in housing and the consequent abandonment thereof, it neglects to point out that the housing policy implemented between 2006 and 2012 focused on the construction of housing units by the private sector directed to a part of the working class, far from the urban centres and lacking in services, and that the neighborhood improvement and the social production of housing have suffered budget cuts.12

To move towards target 11.5 of significantly reducing the number of deaths caused by disasters, concurrent measures from prevention to reconstruction are needed, mainstreaming the rights approach. The earthquakes that took place on 7 and 19 September 2017 revealed that the impacts were also the result of omissions and actions by the State, allowing buildings with structural damage to continue functioning, lack of supervision of schools and various irregularities. The principle of "better reconstruction" of the Sendai Framework for Action for Disaster Risk Reduction is not being applied, since at communities in Chiapas and Oaxaca the population is building with deficient or no technical advice and the Government is not supervising the application of building standards.13

SDG 12: Sustainable consumption and production modalities
Although the VNR acknowledges challenges such as the scarce environmental legislation of chemical substances for the prevention and mitigation of environmental risks of pesticides, fertilizers and toxic substances, the great incongruence in practice exacerbates the problems. For example, in the Yucatan Peninsula, millenary practices of food production such as milpa and methods such as slash-burn, used mainly by Mayan communities, are being threatened by the extension of the agro-industrial model due to Government policies that deliver technological packages that promote monoculture, the use of pesticides, and the planting of transgenic soybeans - resistant to glyphosate, a pesticide that is extremely harmful to health - that has led to deforestation, the reduction of the population of bees and other animal and vegetable species, impacting the beekeeping and meliponiculture (stingless beekeeping) activities of Mayan families.14

There are currently at least 420 socio-environmental conflicts in Mexico, many of them involving corporations, both public and private, national and transnational.15 The civil society report for the Working Group on Business and Human Rights of the United Nations on the occasion of its Mission to Mexico in 2016, shows patterns of violation and abuse of human rights by the State and companies, impunity for such violations, and an environment of corruption that allows them to continue and impedes access to justice.16

SDG 15: sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.
The VNR recognizes that although Mexico is a mega-diverse country, the percentage of the national territory under a system of protection of natural areas is relatively low (10.8%). The report lists among the challenges, the transversality of criteria of environmental sustainability in the public policies of the three levels of government, which also strengthen transparency on the practices of productive and extractive companies. But the VNR deliberately omits the Government's responsibility in allowing unsustainable activities such as mining in Protected Natural Areas (ANP). Concessions and mining projects are granted and operated bypassing the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Environmental Protection that prohibits carrying out any type of exploitation within the core areas of the ANP. The Ministry of Economy has granted almost 60,000 hectares of mining concessions inside these zones; 73 of the main mining projects according to the Mexican Geological Service are located precisely within these areas and Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance), and in both of them a total of 2.22 million hectares have been granted to mining, equivalent to 7.2 percent of the national surface. In the official registry of highly contaminated sites in the country, of a total of 632 sites there are 84 that correspond to mining activities, and 11 of these are in ANPs.17

Implementation and Monitoring of the 2030 Agenda at the National Level: a view from civil society18

The Mexican Government has focused on creating various structures for the coordination and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda. The VNR highlights the National Council of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development installed in April 2017, without clarifying that it took more than a year for it to meet for the first time. It is an exclusively inter-secretarial body that does not formally integrate civil society.19 The Space for articulation of civil society for the follow-up of the 2030 Agenda in Mexico -a key actor in the dialogue with the Mexican Government since the negotiations leading to the adoption of the 2030 Agenda- succeeded in having the Council agree in its first session to incorporate at least one civil society representative with voice and vote, but this has not yet materialized. At the subnational level, only the Council of Mexico City has incorporated civil society.

The preparation of the National Strategy for the Implementation of the 2030 Agenda reported in the VNR was also delayed and social participation was limited to five regional dialogues. In them, as revealed by an independent study,20 most of the participants lacked any previous information about the 2030 Agenda and had no previous work or experience in the matter.

The Specialized Technical Committee of the Sustainable Development Goals responsible for coordinating the generation, monitoring and updating of data and indicators does not have the participation of civil society; the National Platform for Monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals does not offer complete information on the indicators relevant to the SDGs.

The VNR analyses the contribution of the Budgetary Programmes (PP) to the targets of the SDGs, identifying that 83.2 percent of PPs attend to issues related to compliance with the SDGs. But that does not mean that they were designed with this logic in mind. Its impact on the effective fulfillment of the 2030 Agenda must be assessed, without forgetting the ultimate goal of realizing human rights.


We urgently call on the Mexican State to comply with its obligations under the ICESCR and the 2030 Agenda to adopt policies, regulations, programmes and congruent measures, and prioritize human rights and environmental protection. Finally, we reiterate the urgency of guaranteeing the substantive and critical participation of civil society in the implementation and monitoring of the 2030 Agenda in Mexico.


1 Full analysis in the unabridged version of the Mexico chapter, available in Spanish on the Social Watch website.

2 Oficina de la Presidencia de la República. Informe Nacional Voluntario de México 2018 para el Foro Político de Alto Nivel sobre Desarrollo Sostenible. Capítulo V. Reporte de Objetivos. Sección “Transformación hacia sociedades sostenibles y resilientes: ODS 6, 7, 11, 12, 15, pages 25 to 34.

3 FUNDAR, Analysis and Research Center, A.C. Yearbook 2017. Extractive activities in Mexico: mining and hydrocarbons towards the end of the sexennium. Mexico, 2018, pp. 20 and 22. Available at:

4 Report on violations of the rights to drinking water and sanitation in Mexico, 2017 (DHAyS Report) prepared collectively by civil society organizations and networks articulated in view of the official view to Mexico of the Special Rapporteur on these rights in 2017; available at:

5 WHO and UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, “Progress in drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2017. Update and baselines for the SDGs”, 2017.

6 These and other cases were documented as an Annex to the 2017 DHAyS Report, cited above. They were also included in the Joint Civil Society Report on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights in Mexico, as an alternative to the Combined Periodic Reports V and VI of the Mexican State before the ESCR Committee (Alternative Report DESCA). Chapter M. Right to water and right to sanitation. Available at:

7 Alternative Report DESCA.

8 Annex to the DHAyS 2017 Report.

9 For more information, see "The Mexican Government opens the door to the private concession of protected waters", El País, 19 June 2018; available at:

10 Alternative Report DESCA, Chapter B: Obligation to adopt measures, including legislative, to progressively achieve the full realization of rights - emphasis on criticism of the energy reform.

11 Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, “Compendium of scientific, medical and media findings that demonstrate the risks and harms of Fracking (unconventional gas and oil extraction)”, New York, 2015, cited in: FUNDAR. p. 42.

12 Alternative Report DESCA, Chapter N: Right to adequate housing.

13 Taken from the Addendum to the Alternative Report DESCA, section on Earthquakes and DESCA, sent to the ESCR Committee in February 2018, available at:

14 Alternative Report DESCA, Chapter L: Right to adequate food.

15 Ibid., Chapter P: Right to a healthy environment.

16 Ibid., Chapter T: Companies and economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.

17 FUNDAR, Analysis and Research Center, A.C., Yearbook 2017, pp. 19, 24-28.

18 Assessment from the Space for articulation of civil society for the follow-up of the 2030 Agenda in Mexico conformed by 52 civil organizations, networks and independent consultants, with the special collaboration of Nathalie Seguin Tovar - FANMex, Lilian Sol Cuevas - consultant, Corina Martínez - Balance and Eugenia López - PODER.

19 The decree creating the Council available at:

20 FANMex, Action Network for water. Global study on accountability mechanisms on the SDG 6. Case study for Mexico. February 2018.