San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ambassador Studies Her Terrain

The new U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, Anne Andrews, admits she is still finding her bearings.

Andrews, an environmental lawyer by training, has been perched atop the U.S. Embassy here for three months. Along with her appointment came hopes that the environment would receive a revitalized focus in the eyes of Costa Rica’s big brother to the north.

In a recent interview with The Tico Times, Andrews lacked specifics on new green partnerships between the United States and Costa Rica, but mentioned several ongoing programs as priorities.

Andrews acknowledges the strides Costa Rica has made in conservation throughout the years, calling the small nation’s accomplishments “significant.”

In terms of aiding land conservation, the embassy largely plans to continue initiatives already underway, such as funding programs at EARTHUniversity in Guácimo, on the Caribbean slope, and channeling money to the Rainforest Alliance, a U.S. based non-governmental organization that has pushed for sustainable land use practices in Costa Rica.

“EARTHUniversity and the Rainforest Alliance are very engaged in sustainable farming and bananas and we have given support to these organizations,” she said. “Agricultural issues are being addressed by very esteemed universities and NGOs.”

She said the U.S. also supports a deal for Costa Rica brokered by The Nature Conservancy known as a debt-for-nature swap. As a part of the program, approved several years ago (TT, Nov. 2, 2007), the U.S. will pardon $26 million dollars owed by Costa Rica as long as Costa Rica pledges to invest the equivalent sum in forest conservation over the next sixteen years.

According to Andrews, the money will be used to preserve six specific forested areas throughout the country, adding that calls for proposals for preservation plans for these areas will begin to be issued this year.

As far as giving Costa Rica her own green touch, the ambassador said she hopes to tackle “blue and brown issues,” or drinking water and waste water management, issues that governments and banks from France, Israel, Japan and Brazil are also addressing by helping Costa Rica overhaul its sewer and water treatment systems.

Andrews will have a lot reading to do and scores of interviews to conduct in order to understand the complexities that soak Costa Rica’s water issues, which have become especially apparent in recent years because of droughts, over-development and pollution. Offering viable solutions will require intelligence and patience, she said.

She said she will begin her research in Liberia, the provincial capital of Guanacaste, the driest province in Costa Rica and an area where conflicts have arisen over the management of the zone’s water sources and coastal development. She will meet municipal officials with the goal of “learning from those who are involved in shaping the policies” in the parched pastures of Costa Rica’s lowlands.

And as Costa Rica seeks stronger global leverage through environmental policy and increased sustainable economic development, Andrews sees new opportunities for U.S. businesses.

She said the U.S. will facilitate Costa Rica’s carbon neutrality goal by “bringing the kind of business investments and the type of innovation and entrepreneurship in engineering necessary” to help motor a clean technology economy.

It’s no secret by now that reaching carbon parity by 2021 will be a steep uphill climb. But for Andrews, the practicality of the hike is not the main issue, but rather the genuineness of the Costa Rican government’s commitment. “I don’t think (feasibility) is the question,” she said. “I believe the question is, ‘Is Costa Rica’s aspiration credible?’ I think there is no question that it is both credible and genuine.”

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