San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Founder: Organization Will Be Carbon Watchdog

For 34-year-old Roberto Jiménez, life has been all about equity.

“It drives me in just about everything I do,” the young engineer and businessman said.

Since June 2009, Jiménez has been pushing for equity in Costa Rica’s environmental policies, linking social and economic well-being with a clean natural world.

An engineer and environmental auditor by trade, Jiménez founded CO2 Neutral 2021, a nongovernmental lobbying group of roughly a dozen members. He said the group strives to be “an uncomfortable partner” of Costa Rican government officials in their efforts to neutralize the country’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next 11 years.

The group has completed three major projects since its inception last year, hoping to bring the climate change discussion to the foreground in this small country that prides itself on its green image.

CO2 Neutral 2021’s debut study in August of last year uncovered some holes in the country’s calculations to account for carbon emissions and determined that Costa Rica will record an emissions deficit in 2021 unless it steps up efforts in the transportation and agriculture sectors. The group also worked to raise awareness about the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit last December and, in early February, members rated the environmental proposals of the presidential candidates.

All of this, Jiménez said, is to help push environmental policy.

“Why do we do the studies? To wake up leaders. Why do we write letters? To influence people. Why do we do stuffon the candidates? To let them know someone is watching,” Jiménez said.

Jiménez traces his interest in Mother Nature to his childhood. His father and his grandfather, a Chinese immigrant, spent much of their lives working on banana plantations along Costa Rica’s coastlines and in the Philippines, where Jiménez spent his early years in the “privileged colonies” of the farms.

“I’m interested in the environment because it’s where I came from physically, but also because I see the environment as an issue of equity. And the equity behind climate change is amazing,” he said.

Determining which countries should cut how many emissions and by what date fascinates Jiménez. Some nations that are still developing don’t feel they should be held to the same standards as industrialized countries, which are responsible for the largest chunk of global emissions. For Jiménez, climate change is an issue that touches all fields, blurring social and economic boundaries.

“It’s a hairy and difficult problem that needs real, equitable solutions,” he said. A strong push for green jobs is the focus for CO2 Neutral 2021’s future. The group hopes to pressure leaders to pass environmentally sound legislation by espousing its economic benefit.

“Jobs include all angles, social and economic,” he said. “And these jobs are all focused around climate change, so they are environmental as well.”

Jiménez said he hopes to grow his organization to 100 people, some of whom will approach policymakers as business people rather than environmentalists, convincing legislators that environmental policy is a plus because it creates jobs. His goal is to make green jobs a central talking point for the next presidential election.

Jiménez, however, will have to aid this push from afar. He is scheduled to move to Holland in March to work in Shell’s future fuels business unit.

But rest assured, whoever is chosen to take Jiménez’ place atop CO2 Neutral 2021 will have to meet high expectations and develop a strong taste for equity.

“I want to deal with the big challenges and the real complicated issues and our people do, too,” Jiménez said. “That’s the fun. Fixing the complex issues is what really inspires people.”

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