San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Latin American leaders talk energy, climate change

Leaders from Costa Rica and Latin America spoke on themes of sustainable energy, climate change and environmental policy at global venues this week.

“The value proposition that Costa Rica is offering means that every business that produces its goods and services in our country will do it using clean, renewable and safe energy,” Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla told participants at a renewable energy forum she attended while on a tour of Japan. “That implies that the challenges of the future are important and urgent.”

The president went on to say that if Costa Rica wants to achieve its goal of a “green economy” and attract foreign businesses to participate in that economy, then it must guarantee the country will be able to supply energy for those businesses.

“We can only achieve this measure through strategic international alliances for technical innovation and financing for new projects,” Chinchilla added.

Also on Wednesday, but half a world away, Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro addressed attendees of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa.

“Yes, it is costly,” Castro said. “But Costa Rica is not ready to sacrifice, on the altar of the standard of living of anyone, the right of a sovereign country to survive as a nation, to have auto-determination and to live in that territory it calls house, home, country. We believe the right to survive should be treated differently in this convention: preferentially. It should be prioritized before other discussions and require decisive action, not only from the Convention, but from all the bodies of the United Nations to defend its member states from the threats of climate change.”

Castro detailed Costa Rica’s plans to become the world’s first carbon-neutral economy by 2021, noting that the country currently generates 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources, with plans to increase that to 95 percent by 2014. Castro also talked about Coopedota, the world’s first carbon-neutral coffee producer, saying the co-op’s efforts to reduce environmental impacts offer a framework for other coffee producers and Costa Rica’s entire agricultural sector. Additionally, Castro said that starting in 2012 all taxis, buses and gas stations in the country will begin to move away from the use of fossil fuels and focus more on alternative fuels for vehicles such as electricity and natural gas.

Herman Rosa Chávez, El Salvador’s environment and natural resources minister, addressed conference attendees Thursday, calling for developed countries to help smaller, poorer countries finance plans for adaptation to climatic changes.

“We need very clear and concrete decisions on funding,” Chávez said. “All vulnerable countries need funding to support their urgent adaptation actions. That is why we have to decide here to operationalize immediately the Green Climate Fund, with all the essential elements that we have been discussing under your able guidance, including an initial significant capitalization so that we do not start with an empty shell.”

The Green Climate Fund is a structure created to help developing countries develop and implement plans to adapt to climate change. The fund is currently on the skids because of disputes between donor countries like the United States and Saudi Arabia and recipients about how to distribute the funds. Costa Rica’s climate change director, William Alpízar, said financing adaptation and mitigation plans for developing countries is one of the major problems he hoped to see resolved at the Durban conference.

Chávez also noted that El Salvador now experiences almost one extreme weather event each year, compared to approximately one per decade 50 years ago. The tropical depression that struck El Salvador in October, Chávez said, killed 40 people and caused at least $840 million in economic losses, or about 4 percent of El Salvador’s gross domestic product.

Costa Rica’s Castro wrapped up his comments Wednesday, saying: “Finally, Costa Rica thinks that no country is too small or too big to speak out and defend the human rights that have been ignored of the earliest and most vulnerable victims. And that no country is too small or too big that it cannot add its efforts and act to mitigate global climate change.”

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