San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Country Plans Actions against Global Warming

Costa Rica, a country whose primary industry, tourism, depends on the survival of its bountiful tropical forests and wildlife, intends to stay on the leading edge of efforts to combat global warming.

Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles this week announced the country’s plan for attacking global warming and coping with its seemingly inevitable effects.

The steps, he said, are first to establish a series of metrics to measure the changes, then begin to investigate the exchange of greenhouse gases in the country with the goal of becoming a carbon neutral country – in essence, ensuring that the country’s forests consume as much carbon dioxide as the country produces.

The plan also includes coping tactics – assessing the country’s vulnerability to climate change, then addressing potential issues associated with rising sea levels from melting polar ice caps, longer dry seasons and their effects on water supply, agriculture and fisheries, among other industries.

“Global warming is a problem we’ve known about – it’s nothing new.What’s new is the world’s realization that this is for real, not just something blown out of proportion by environmental groups,” said Dobles said at a press conference Wednesday.

A proposed decree, to be signed by President Oscar Arias,Health Minister María Luisa Ávila and Dobles in the coming months, would also require the country’s landfills to immediately begin trapping methane gas, which is produced by decomposing waste, and use the gas to fuel electricity production – thereby killing two birds, renewable energy and the prevention of the release of greenhouse gases, with one stone.

Dobles’ announcements come on the heels of a report released early this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which, besides stating the seriousness and imminence of the problem, also announced that the effects could be curbed at a reasonable cost, if measures are taken immediately.

The IPCC report specifically recommends boosting global use of renewable energy sources, reducing deforestation and improving energy efficiency.

Each measure was addressed by Dobles, who emphasized the problem is no longer just the responsibility of a single government agency, or international environmental groups, but rather, “all the citizens.”

These are not the first efforts by Costa Rica to combat global warming.

Late last year, President Oscar Arias announced intentions to lead a global coalition of nations that seek to promote the protection of rain forests as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, a sustainable development program founded by former U.S. President Bill Clinton (TT, Sept. 29, 2006).

The country has also pioneered the highly praised “Payment for Environmental Services” program, by which, according to Jorge Rodríguez, executive director of the National Forestry Finance Fund (FONAFIFO), “small landowners of natural forests and forest plantations receive direct payments for the environmental services that the forests provide to Costa Rican society and to the world at large.”

Costa Rica also attracts international businesses intent on mitigating their effects on the global climate.

On Tuesday, a Spanish insurance company, Liberty Seguros, designated 48,430 euros ($65,000) to plant 240,000 trees in Costa Rica, company president Luis Bonell told the press agency EFE.

The trees, which will cover 1,800 hectares of forestlands, are expected to absorb 37,600 tons of carbon dioxide per year in Costa Rica.

Liberty Seguros emitted an estimated 4,843 tons of carbon dioxide in Spain in 2005 through energy consumption at its offices, and hopes to be able to make up damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions through planting trees in Costa Rica – a country whose lush forests are known for their capacity to absorb the greenhouse gases that contribute to warming.

The country is also attracting some of the world’s top researchers in global warming.

The U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) – which has conducted research in Costa Rica since last year (TT, Feb. 3, 2006) – plans to make Costa Rica its base of operations for research on the impact of tropical clouds on global warming. The goal is to observe air currents along the country’s coastline and investigate how they might contribute to climate change.

According to the N ational Center forHigh Technology (CENAT), this will be the largest mission carried out by NASA outside the United States – involving 230 NASA scientists and technicians and an estimated $20 million.

Earlier this month, another research group, the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) – a consortium of global academic institutions – held a forum at its La Selva Biological Station, on the Caribbean slope, convening some of the world’s foremost tropical scientists.

Among the many issues discussed was the effect of rising temperatures on the growth of trees in Costa Rica’s lush tropical forests – as prized for their biodiversity as their ability to capture carbon dioxide and slow global warming.

“Warmer years are worse years for tree growth. As the climate gets warmer, that’s not good news at all for our forests,” explained David Clark, a U.S. researcher at La Selva.

The issue might seem mundane, except that the world depends on forests such as Costa Rica’s to absorb greenhouse gases, and the country itself depends on its biological diversity to promote its tourism industry.

Trying to pinpoint the exact effects of global warming on Costa Rica’s forest is still speculative, but Clark believes there is little doubt the effects will be “negative – from both a human value and conservation point of view.”

A Day Without Cars

Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles announced the closure of Paseo Colón – a vital artery into the capital city of San José – on Sunday, June 3, two days before World Environment Day.

The symbolic gesture, which he dubbed “A Day Without Cars,” is intended to raise awareness of the urgent need to reduce emissions to help slow global warming.

The stretch of Paseo Colón between the MercedesTower west to La Sabana Park will be closed to traffic between 7:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.

The celebration will include showings of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” a film on the potential effects of global warming, as well as a wide variety of cultural and educational activities and booths for both children and adults.


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