Climate Deal 2015

Costa Rica makes unconditional offer to decarbonize its economy and build resilience

Costa Rica’s contribution to the Paris climate agreement was released today. This climate plan sets an unconditional target of having maximum level of emissions, 9,3 million tonnes of CO2e, by 2030 - an absolute reduction compared to 2012 (12,4 million tonnes of CO2e). The Plan, or INDC, helps to bridge some key gaps in the current approach to climate change and builds on the voluntary actions that will be delivered in the pre 2020 period. Starting 2021 Costa Rica will have a formal commitment to achieve and sustain decarbonization with specific levels of capita emissions of CO2e for 2030, 2050 and 2100.

Costa Rica plan commits the country to an absolute 25% reduction of net emissions by 2030 compared to 2012. This means a target of staying a 1.73 tonnes CO2e per capita in 2030. The plan offers improvements in governance, transparency, adaptation and urban mobility. This shift the focus from carbon neutrality centered on the role of forests to decarbonization centered on real emissions. It's an ambitious plan and the question will be, of course, how to bring different sectors on board, especially around clean mobility, and how to best accelerate the pace of implementation.

An unconditional absolute reduction to 2030

Costa Rica’s unconditional target aims to bring carbon emissions to 1.73 tonnes CO2e per capita in 2030, 1.19 tonnes CO2e per capita in 2050 and 0.27 tonnes of CO2e per capita to 2100. This trajectory is consistent with the global trajectory that is consistent with a 2C world. The cap on the total emissions is 9,374,000 tonnes of CO2e by 2030 compared to 12,441,260 tonnes in 2012 - which means a 25% reduction.

The sectors considered for the climate plan are transport and agriculture (the main emitters) as well as power generation, waste and forests. The country builds on its voluntary work in the pre-2020 period. The original goal, set in 2007, was that in 2021 net emissions would be the same as in 2005 levels was the carbon neutrality program.This goal remains but the INDC goes further starting January 2021. It is important to clarify that the carbon neutrality is not being abandoned. Instead a deeper decarbonization pathway will be embraced.

Bridging two key gaps: resilience and mobility

Because Costa Rica has traditionally framed its climate plans around carbon neutrality, the adaptation has been very weak in comparision. The carbon neutrality aspiration is a positive precedent because since 2007 the country embraced the notion that we would be one of the first nations - if not the first one - to be carbon neutral in the world. This built confidence and got many stakeholders engaged and energized around climate issues. It also allowed us to punch above our weight internationally. Since 2007 until 2014 the emphasis was on the role of forests and carbon sequestration. Now it is time to reach the next frontier: less compensation and more real reductions - complemented with efforts to tackle climate impacts and build resilience. Does the new climate plan do that?

This national contribution or INDC (as it is known in the UN lingo) does recognize the gap in resilience. It creates a National Adaptation Strategy to be completed before 2021 - the official start year for this new Plan. A new adaptation plan for Costa Rica will not start from scratch, it builds on the current infrastructure around ecosystem protection, conservation programs and risk management plans. It will integrate current work around environmental health, planning and descentralization. The need for national risk management plan is mentioned.

The INDC does not decrease the importance of mitigation (in fact it has a stronger mitigation target than other countries that have higher emissions), instead it stresses the complement the effort to decarbonize with the need to build resilience to climate change.

Going forward, and even before 2021, new attention will be paid to urban issues, in particular mobility, from investing in a new train to promoting electrification of the private auto fleet. This is critical because without investing in urban transformation the country is unlikely to meet its decarbonization targets throughout this century. The good news is that power generation is already relatively clean. The country run over 188 days without fossil fuel this year (94 of which were consecutive). The INDC states that power generation will be 100% renewable by 2030.

Is the plan fair?

Countries tend to define fairness and equity on the basis of what others do. This INDC builds on a different logic. The target was informed by this question: How can the country make its fair share vis a vis the scientific imperative of keeping average temperature increase to 2C by the end of the century? It was not calculated on the basis on what other countries do or what amount of finance the country will receive.

First reaction

The INDC could help Costa Rica make progress in four areas:
1. Bridge the adaptation gap: It balances mitigation and adaptation goals for the first time.
2. Boost our mobility agenda: It achieves a better balance between forest and agriculture, on the one hand, and the urban agenda, on the other.
3. Help accelerate execution: It can help accelerate implementation (through stronger inter-ministerial work) and implementation.
4. Increase transparency: It increases transparency through an open-government approach.

Some striking features of the INDC are the offer to decarbonize without setting conditional targets, and our own definition of fairness (vis a vis science, not what others do). This is noteworthy because Costa Rica is a low emitting economy and will face disproportional climate impacts (and average increase of one degree Celsious has already been recorded) so the easier road would be to be to complain about climate injustice. Instead it focuses on the need to do its fair share and proposed absolute reductions.

The focus on open data on climate issues is very much needed in Costa Rica. One positive element of the INDC draft is the proposal to create a Citizen Council on Climate Change. Participation and engagement will increase local ownership of the INDC. It also creates a consultative Scientific Council.

For the urban component of the INDC to succeed, we will need to transform our transportation system. This transformation will help our transition to becoming a 100% renewable country one day – which cannot be done unless the country decreases and eventually eliminates our dependence on gasoline and diesel. That is why one big signal that the INDC sends to Costa Rican society is that it is time for a real conversation about the urban development that we need and and the one we have now. A clean and resilient urban agenda will be critical for achieving the goal of becoming a country with 1.73 tonnes per CO2e in 2030 and, most importantly, a country with high quality of lif for a majority.

The Plan is available here

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