Electoral Analysis 2018 – Costa Rica
(Reminder: La Ruta del Clima has a neutral position with respect to the electoral candidates and the purpose of this series of articles is to inform and facilitate a critical analysis for our readers.)
In these months, we are nearing a change in government in Costa Rica. The electoral process in this country will bring changes, and it is important to analyze in detail how the issue of climate change is reflected in the main agendas of the presidential candidates.
At the international level, Costa Rica is a leader on the issue of climate governance, with its agenda well defined by its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). When Costa Rica ratified the Paris Agreement, it was required to develop a NDC, a commitment in which the country establishes targets to comply with global climate objectives. It is a short- to medium-term plan in which the country establishes a commitment to decarbonize its economy and become more resilient in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.
Recently, the University of Costa Rica’s Semanario Universidad conducted a poll on the leading presidential candidates of Costa Rica. Three of these candidates received more than 10 percent support in the polls: Antonio Alvarez Desanti, Juan Diego Castro and Rodolfo Piza.
We will analyze the candidates’ proposals based on the political programs they have available on the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) website as well as their campaign websites. Priority is given to analyze what is publicly available and the candidates’ positions or proposals on climate governance.
How do these candidates propose to give continuity to the Costa Rican climate agenda?
Juan Diego Castro – Lawyer and National Integration Party Candidate
Juan Diego Castro has presented his candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic of Costa Rica and his proposal for government has appeared in several publications. Castro’s proposal is derived from different sources such as his campaign website, Government Plan, and information shared by the TSE.
The National Integration Party (PIN) proposes through its candidate a government of reconstruction, seeking to give more importance to spirituality as individuals and as a collective, to achieve sustainable human development. From different posts on his website as well as his Government Plan, we can begin to get an idea of what Castro proposes on the subject of environmental development. Unfortunately, “climate change,” “mitigation,” “adaptation,” “decarbonization,” and “carbon neutrality” do not appear in Castro’s Government Plan.
Why is there no mention of climate change?
This is clearly the main question that citizens should ask the candidate. We must consider that climate change is one of the main foreign policy issues of this country. National projects, such as carbon neutrality, have been in practice and discussion in the country for many years. Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity and must be included in development models. Climate governance cannot be absent.
Government plan and environmental sustainability
Castro’s campaign site and Government Plan do not appear to directly address climate change, but aspects related to environmental sustainability are included. It is important to analyze them and explore what relationship they could have with the climate effort that Costa Rica has been developing.
The Government Program of Castro mentions that it is open to criticism and discussion. In this spirit, we carry out the following analysis to begin a dialogue that we hope Costa Ricans have with Castro and other candidates about their proposals.
As noted in the Castro Government Program: “The ideas presented in this document are open to criticism and discussion. They are also open to comments and observations for improvement.”
According to Castro, the urgent issues are:
- Fiscal situation
- Waiting lists for the Costa Rican Social Security Fund
- Training for employment
The strategic themes are:
- The structure and functioning of the state
- Competitiveness and economic growth
- The justice system and security
- Environmental sustainability
- Health system
- Education system
“And we will work with strategic issues for the future, such as the structure and functioning of the state, competitiveness and economic growth, and environmental sustainability.” Castro Government Plan
Long-term environmental planning
Castro puts forth a proposal to establish long-term planning, looking beyond emergency management situations and integrating strategic issues into planning.
Castro identifies the lack of long-term planning as a problem, stating:
“Short-term planning, without impacts for future generations, becomes detached from the budget process and fiscal policy. This has resulted in decades of delay in the planning of fundamental areas such as infrastructure, housing, security, education, the environment and health.”
Castro enigmatically proposes “solutions instead of diagnostics” in what seems to be a proposal for action. On the issue of climate change, this can have an ambiguous result. Since the uncertainty with respect to adequate solutions for climate change is constant, it is necessary to adapt and continually reevaluate actions. There is a need to mobilize climate actions in a flexible manner, since these actions form part of long-term processes that are constantly being evaluated, constructed and deconstructed. On the other hand, if we already know how to proceed on issues of climate governance, it would be useful to communicate them in the Government Plan.
“We are not going to make more diagnoses. We are going to propose solutions. Since we are going to govern seriously, we are going to make the most difficult decisions, those that require determination and political commitment at the highest level. We are clear that naming problems and making proposals do not fix anything. To solve problems you have to understand how to do it. We already know how.” Castro Government Plan
In the proposed long-term planning bill published on the candidate’s website, the environment is identified as one of the areas lagging behind. It proposes to tackle this problem with several reforms to the National Planning Law, offering a long-term vision and making it binding on the National Development Plan. The bill proposes that medium- and long-term plans will be established every five years.
Castro also proposes modifications to the General Law of the Public Administration in order to unify the vision of public institutions and to modify the Law of the Financial Administration of the Republic and Public Budgets to ensure planned financing. This idea is reiterated in the section on the fiscal situation where it is proposed in the Castro Government Plan:
“A long-term vision will be established in National Planning and the methods for the preparation and approval of national budgets will be changed to consolidate a true public expenditure policy for development.”
This is an issue of great relevance for climate governance given that the Paris Agreement requires countries to develop a long-term development strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These documents must be presented to the international community to complement the provisions established by the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, which are the cyclical goals that countries adjust to meet climate goals. Unfortunately, there are no references in the proposal to any specific climate or environmental aspect, beyond identifying it as a sector, so what is stated is abstract. This is an important issue given that currently only six countries have submitted their long-term strategies, with Costa Rica’s waiting to be developed.
The other source of documentary information that we found to understand Castro’s climate ideology, were the direct statements from the TSE, where each candidate presents the main points proposed in their respective plans. On the issue of environment and energy, specific actions of Castro’s environmental agenda are laid out. Natural capital, green taxes, the improvement and reinforcement of environmental policies (urban planning, waste, water resources, and unsustainable performance of productive activities), the alignment of environmental policies with businesses and industries and the strengthening of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are all mentioned here. It is also said that the planning of the country will be revised to “consolidate sustainable economic and social development, which fosters business growth, employment and sustainable use of the natural wealth of the country.”
In addition, in the transportation infrastructure section of Castro’s Government Program, there is a proposal to develop a rapid train in Costa Rica’s Central Valley through the public works concession. It would be an electric train for public transport in the greater metropolitan area of San Jose, which would reduce travel times of users and road congestion. This proposal is compatible with Costa Rica’s NDC, which calls for an “inter-city electric train.”
The government program sets forth a vision of environmental sustainability as a necessary condition for development. The use of the word natural capital is important, since it expresses a vision of nature from the economic perspective and values its existence in terms of the ecosystem services it provides to society.
“Priority will be given to existing public policies that promote the country’s strong sustainability, consistent with the management of natural capital to promote economic growth and sustainable development. This is to optimize productive resources and environmental services with a functional institutional environment.” Castro Government Program
Another interesting proposal is to revise the governance of Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) on environmental issues, the scope and effectiveness of its stewardship. For a ministry that changes acronyms with each government according to its political vision, it is something that the citizenry should inquire about with the candidate.
What aspects and why do you consider that the governance of MINAE should be revised?
The environmental section of Castro’s Government Program says that it will focus on five areas of political action: “urban expansion and weak urban planning; contamination by solid and liquid waste; the degradation of water resources; the restoration of productive landscapes, and the unsustainable performance of productive activities.”
Other actions that arise are:
- Create a national system of environmental and geospatial statistics
- Consolidate the water resource integrated management
- Strengthen the use of economic instruments for environmental management in the public and private sectors
- Design economic incentives for the management of water, forests and biodiversity
On petroleum extraction
In a forum with producers and entrepreneurs from the agricultural sector, Castro threatened to upend an 18-year-old moratorium on petroleum exploration in Costa Rica. The current moratorium has been extended to 2021 by the current administration. Castro’s words were met with alarm by environmentalists in the country.
“If we live on a treasure of gold or oil, we will exploit it accordingly,” said Castro.
Castro went on to say: “We are not going to subordinate the development and production of this country to the tricks, business and whims of the ecoterrorist groups. I know them, I have confronted them and I have stopped them.”
And climate change?
Unfortunately, there is no mention of climate change in the publications available on the candidate’s website, Government Program or information provided on the TSE website on governance. There is no mention of key instruments that are being developed as a result of the Paris Agreement or the programs – projects of participating countries.
There are proposals that can be inferred or related to necessary climate actions, but there is no systemic approach in the Government Program. For example, Castro refers to the SDGs, of which objective 13 is climate action. However, it would be irresponsible to consider this an adequate alternative to directly addressing climate change.
The climatic actions that the country has been developing over the last two decades and its current commitments are tangible, measurable and have a timetable. Proposals to increase their aspiration or promote their implementation should be in accordance with the reality of climate governance and not ambiguous or abstract. This is what we need to see in the Government Programs or in what is communicated by the candidates in the final phase of the elections.
Climate change governance is not only complex, but is essential for sustainable development plans in any country. Climate governance is currently reflected in a solid planning and legal structure that Costa Rica has developed over the last 23 years. In addition, it is an issue that transcends the national sphere, since the actions we carry out and declare before the international community will be reported and evaluated with respect to the objectives we set in the NDC as the goal of reduction that all countries have. It is a cross-cutting issue but also interdependent with the international community.
Not making reference to the NDC, Paris Agreement, climate policies and strategies, deliberative open participation councils or any of the cutting-edge programs that identify the country (NAMAs) leaves a gap. Although the environmental issue is mentioned as a priority sector in the structural proposals in general, the climate issue is absent.
The continuity and aspiration of climate governance at the national level is essential.
It is necessary to establish a dialogue about what candidates propose in their programs and the key tools of climate governance, such as the NDC. In this way we can guarantee progress, transparency and continuous aspiration in the climate action that the Paris Agreement asks of us. This is a task that all citizens must undertake in exercising their right and democratic power.