Will Costa Rica shift to 100% clean energy?

The speech of the Government of Costa Rica made "headlines" in social media. What did he say exactly? Will Costa Rica shift to 100% clean energy by 2016? This is a summary of what he did say, my reaction and a question for him and his team.

1. The protection of human rights is the basis for development and welfare, including environmental protection.

2. The climate agreement has to be universal, transformative and a binding agreement for all.

3. Costa Rica reaffirms the commitment to becoming a carbon neutral country by 2021.

4. The government will focus on two strategic areas: Transport and Energy.

5. The list of actions are as follows:

  • Transport: an articulated transportation network that will include an electric railway system complemented with a new bus system that will only use biofuels. This is the main challenge and it will be with no doubt, the most complex, yet the most beneficial.
  • Energy: Costa Rica has 90% of its power production matrix based on renewable sources.

A. With a new hydropower project Costa Rica will generate 100% of its electricity from renewable sources. B. Costa Rica will also explore and extract geothermal energy. C. We extended the moratorium on oil exploration and extraction until 2021. D. Commitment to massive development of renewable technologies for domestic use that are cheaper, innovative and accessible to everyone. Redefinition of a public energy-saving strategy.

6. The support of the international community to middle-income countries is vital in moving towards a low emissions development that eradicates poverty as well. Without solidarity, we will not succeed.

7. Developing countries cannot continue subsidizing emissions from the most polluting countries.

8. One of the greatest challenges lies in adaptation to climate change. We need:

  • To promote more responsive agricultural methods
  • To develop better infrastructure that withstand extreme weather events
  • To strengthen our resilience as well as communal organization.

9. We must promote democracy, citizen participation and enhanced respect for Human Rights.

10. Five key words in the road form Lima to Paris:

  • Commitment (targets for everyone),
  • Ambition (especially among the most powerful nations),
  • Cooperation (especially on technology)
  • Equity (historical responsibility and financial support) and
  • Transparency (of actions).

A reaction and a question

First, he did come to New York after all. The President came to New York after only 4 months in power. The local press and opposition are critical of foreign trips. Moreover, climate change is not a priority in the Congress. And yet he came to New York and that is a good step forward. (And we need to educate our press and Congress).

Second, he listed two types of action. The President listed transport and energy as the two priorities for making Costa Rica a carbon neutral country and listed specific types of energy. He also emphasized adaptation and resilience, which are still “orphan issues” in Costa Rican politics. I liked that he broke away from forest-centric political discourse of the past years. Forests are vital, but it is time to talk about urban issues and climate risks to infrastructure. It looks like he is open to new ideas.

Third, he focused on 100% clean electricity, but what about our growing dependence on oil for cars and trucks? President Solis mentioned that Costa Rica would have a 100% renewable energy electricity matrix by 2016 (this is fantastic news) and naturally this sentence stirred tweeting and re-tweeting waves. Now we have to bring his articulate and confident words on a clean shift back to our domestic politics: Why not use $1.5 billion to support clean infrastructure and sustainable transport instead of the oil refinery?

Becoming the first country to commit to 100% clean energy, not just electricity, would be the most transformative commitment for Costa Rica's development, people and the climate. The largest climate march in history clearly said to Government leaders that we are looking for champions and Costa Rica has all the right conditions to be one of them.

Monica Araya is the Founder and Director of Nivela and of Costa Rica Limpia, a citizens platform. She marched together with 400,000 people in New York and is attending the U.N. Climate Leaders Summit.

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