San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Global climate summit spurs action in Costa Rica

Now that the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban, South Africa, is wrapped up, Costa Rican officials are turning their attention back to dealing with the effects of global climate chaos at home.

“We should feel satisfied with the three products that came out of the Durban package,” said William Alpízar, Costa Rica’s director of climate change at the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry.

Alpízar referred to the agreements reached by participating countries at the conference, which ran from Nov. 28 through Dec. 11 in the South African city. Negotiators from across the globe reached an agreement on the final day of the conference, which included the continuation of regulations established in the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The parties agreed that by 2015, the framework for a legally binding resolution – including developing and developed countries – is to be designed. Previous agreements had exempted many developing countries from the strictest regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. That resolution will go into effect in 2020. 

A third development is the framework for the Green Climate Fund, an idea hashed out in Cancún in 2010 and that would provide $100 billion annually from developed donor countries to help the world’s most vulnerable countries design and implement plans to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change.

In November, Alpízar expressed little hope of much progress at the conference, but financing for the Green Climate Fund was one of the few topics that seemed to buoy his optimism. Until the agreement was reached in Durban, donor states had balked at coughing up funds directly to developing nations, preferring instead to use intermediary institutions in administering the funds.

“For Europe, the United States, Japan and [other] countries that are going to be putting money into the green fund, the transparency of the resources and processes is very important,” Alpízar said.

Countries at Durban agreed on the outline of the fund and methods for transparency, but the issue of funding – to the tune of $100 billion annually – is still somewhat in limbo. 

Costa Rica, Alpízar admitted, is low on the totem pole in terms of receiving cash from the Green Climate Fund. The fund, he said, targets the most vulnerable countries, and while Costa Rica is vulnerable, it is in better shape than places in Africa and island nations threatened with disappearance by rising sea levels.

Closer to home, Alpízar said, Costa Rica is fighting hard against climate change.

“Costa Rica is a champion,” he said. “In terms of climate change, we’re full of errors and problems and all that, but when you think about the general concepts of [fighting against] climate change, believe me, we’re in with the good ones.”

Fighting the good fight at home in 2012 will entail creating a domestic emissions-reductions market, Alpízar said, a step Costa Rica will imitate from some European countries that have established similar programs.

“We have established the standard,” he said. “In 2012, we’ll begin on the design of a domestic market for emissions reductions. It will be the first domestic market like this for a developing country, where we try to achieve reduction of emissions through market stimuli.”

Also slated for 2012 is the development and implementation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) for both the agricultural and transportation sectors. The basis for an agricultural NAMA model is already being implemented at Coopedota, a cooperative of coffee producers in the Los Santos region south of San José. Coopedota produces the world’s first carbon-neutral coffee. 

Additionally, Costa Rica is planning to develop a national climate change fund to address climate-related issues and develop technology at home. The fund will use Costa Rican cash as well as help from partner countries and private entities. This “bilateral action” is something that Costa Rican Environment Minister René Castro worked hard to develop at Durban, Alpízar said.

Anne Andrew, U.S. ambassador to Costa Rica, said developing those bilateral relationships is an area in which Costa Rica has excelled.

“Costa Rica has been a leader in looking at how to bridge the gap between developed and developing countries,” Andrew said.

The U.S. recently donated $1.5 million to help Costa Rica develop low emissions strategies and has supported the country’s goal of becoming the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2021. Andrew cited Coopedota and plans to develop carbon-neutral pineapples as indicators of Costa Rica’s progress toward that goal.

But carbon neutrality by 2021 is an ambitious goal. The country has approximately 1 million motorists on its roads, and in 2010 emitted slightly more than 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. To meet the 2021 goal, the country will need to remove about 1 million tons of CO2 from its economy annually for the next 10 years.

Climate Change 2

World leaders had mixed success at a recent climate summit in South Africa, headed by U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres.


Derek Lemoine, a professor of economics at the University of Arizona who studies environmental and energy economics, agreed that Costa Rica has set its sights high with the 2021 goal, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“In general, for the world there are two big challenges,” Lemoine said. “The first one is to begin constraining emissions in the short term. The other is to set the world up to where we need to be 10 or 15 years down the road to make that next step and get to a much lower level of emissions.”

Laying the groundwork for future goals, via initiatives like NAMA in transportation and agriculture, and establishing a national climate change fund to finance research and development are steps in the right direction. Climate scientists agree that a main goal in the fight against climate change is to limit the average global increase in temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, something that will require a reduction in emissions of around 80 percent for most major emitters. But for that to happen, steps have to be taken now.

“Hitting those goals depends on how you set yourself up between now and then,” Lemoine said. “What kind of infrastructure did I build up in 2020? What kind of research and development did I do? What kind of technologies do I have available so that now when I take that next really big leap, that harder leap to drastically reduce emissions, am I doing it with an infrastructure that has locked in carbon emissions already? Is it going to be really expensive to replace, or have I set myself up to be ready to reach those goals?”

One of the issues facing Costa Rica’s trek toward carbon neutrality is the lack of well-defined annual goals in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Alpízar acknowledged that the country doesn’t yet have a nuanced system for monitoring changes in emission levels, but a plan is in the works.

The Costa Rican government, he said, is working with a French company to develop a national register for tracking emissions in both the public and private sectors that would allow reductions – or the lack thereof – to be monitored on at least a yearly basis.

Alpízar said plans for the register are going ahead as the government evaluates the cost and methods for financing the project.

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