2018 Elections in Costa Rica: A Theme of Climate Governance

2018 Elections

Costa Rica is about to enter the final phase of its electoral process and there is a diverse group of candidates seeking its citizens’ support.  On the issue of climate, the continuity of effort at governance and the increased desire for action are key to achieving the goals we set  for ourselves.  It is a good time to ask the candidates if their government plans and thinking reflect what is needed to confront climate change and change our development model to one that fully embraces sustainability.


The climate issue has evolved over the 23 years since the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The UNFCCC was the first collective response to combat climate change, which has become a global effort to redefine a viable path for the development of human society and ensure survival in the face of climate change. It is one of the main elements that defined the development of countries under the Paris Agreement.

While this may sound dramatic, climate change affects entire ecosystems and poses a particular threat to our society. Costa Rica, although a small emitter of greenhouse gases, is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.  We must look for how to adapt to these negative effects that the current development model has generated.

Costa Rica

Photo: CETAV- UNDP climate change scenario in Costa Rica

Among the risks faced by the country, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) specifically states that Costa Rica will likely suffer from saline water penetration of 150 to 500 meters on the Puntarenas coast, affecting 60 to 90 percent of urban areas.  In addition, amphibians in mountain ecosystems and elsewhere in Costa Rica are particularly vulnerable to extinction from diseases induced by climate change.

More information about climate change

Also, the IPCC points out in a special regional report that the generation of hydroelectric energy and the production of grains and livestock will be especially vulnerable to changes in water supply, particularly in Costa Rica. The changes that the country will begin to experience are well studied and, consequently, a National Adaptation Plan has been designed. To put  the dimension of the challenge in context, the National Climate Change Strategy illustrates how it will affect two basic elements, temperature and precipitation:

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From a financial perspective, the impacts of extreme hydrometeorological events caused by climate change will generate significant economic damage. In the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of Costa Rica, it was estimated that the country has already suffered a total of 1.13 billion dollars in damage from 2005 to 2011. The sectors that have been most affected by climate change are:

  • Road infrastructure
  • Electricity generation infrastructure
  • Farming
  • Housing

It is important to remember these four sectors in analyzing what the electoral candidates in Costa Rica are proposing regarding the climate issue, since we already know what has affected us and how much this damage cost us. In a country where funding is scarce, climate change cannot be left out of the candidates’ government plans, especially because 78.2 percent of the losses mentioned above are public works and will affect the national budget.

The adverse effects of climate change are not fair and will affect the most vulnerable populations of the country.   Women, children and people living in poverty are all disproportionately at risk. The NDC of Costa Rica also tells us an estimate of the damages we can have. It is necessary to emphasize that the development or government of Costa Rica cannot be planned without the climate issue.

“If the country continues to follow its current path, according to some studies, in 2030 losses will amount to more than 7 Billion US Dollars, since 2006, and could reach by 2050 almost 30 Billion US Dollars.”  

Are we going to adapt?

In terms of adaptation, the country has defined objectives that should help us reduce the damage and become more resilient in the face of the adverse effects of climate change. According to the NDC, the adaptation actions of Costa Rica for the period 2016-2030 are defined so that the government plans of the electoral candidates should also reflect a way to attain them. The adaptation actions that we are going to carry out are the following:

  • Develop a National Adaptation Plan
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Community-based adaptation
  • Adaptation based on ecosystems
  • Planning and local management for territorial adaptation
  • Adaptation of public infrastructure
  • Environmental health as an adaptation measure
  • Capacity development, technology transfer and financing for adaptation

The NDC of Costa Rica gives a brushstroke about each point enunciated but its execution and effectiveness depends on the government in power. It is imperative to know how these goals are going to be achieved or if they will be discarded. An important threat to these goals is that they are not a structural part of the government plan and that their value is only on paper.

We can count on the international community to ask Costa Rica about these points when it has formally declared them, but this does not reduce vulnerability or damage in the end. The only thing that does this is real and effective climate action. With this issue, as with others, it is important to seek coherence and continuity of climate governance goals in the government proposals of the electoral candidates.

Climate governance continues

In ratifying the Paris Agreement, Costa Rica was required to participate in an interdependent, transparent, monitorable process with a common objective: to limit the global temperature increase from 1.5℃ to 2℃. This process has certain tools and a defined timeline for its success, so a country cannot get out of sync without affecting others and being asked to do so.

One of the first public and tangible commitments of Costa Rica in this process was to present its NDC. In this commitment, the country establishes the goals that will be implemented to comply with global climate objectives at the national level. Our main commitment is to decarbonize the economy (one step beyond just carbon neutrality) and become more resilient in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.

“Costa Rica will center its climate change actions on increasing society’s resilience to the impact of climate change and strengthening the country’s capacity for a low emission development in the long term. Costa Rica will strengthen its climate action with efforts to reduce emissions, following scientific suggestions of what would be necessary to avoid the worst effect of climate change. Climate action will be based on balanced efforts of adaptation to ensure that communities, especially vulnerable communities, become resilient to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.” Costa Rica NDC

The next big step we must take in this process is to declare a long-term development strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These commitments must be accompanied by a transparent system that monitors the country’s actions. This is where the actions that a candidate proposes for the next four years are relevant, given that if there is no continuity in the goals and process, we can miss our commitments and affect the common effort.

To ensure countries’ climate actions are being fulfilled, a system has been designed: the “Global Stocktake.” Beginning in 2023, an evaluation will occur every 5 years and review the progress of each country towards the objectives it has declared and the common goal. In other words, if the future governors do not incorporate the logic of the Paris Agreement into their government plans, our development model, actions and projects that we develop will not help with the common goal, breaking with the effort of so many years. Climate action must be present both in the electoral discussions and in the political implementation of the new government.



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