Elections in Costa Rica and Climate Change: Antonio Álvarez Desanti

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2018 Costa Rica Electoral Analysis

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.

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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.

Costa Rican presidential candidates

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Recently, the University of Costa Rica conducted a poll on the leading presidential candidates of Costa Rica.  Three of these candidates received more than 10 percent support in this recent poll: Antonio Alvarez Desanti, Fabricio Alvarado and Carlos Alvarado.

We will analyze the candidates’ proposals based on the political programs they have posted on the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) website as well as their campaign websites.  Priority is given to analyze what is publicly available online and the candidates’ positions or proposals on climate governance.  

How do these candidates propose to give continuity to the Costa Rican climate agenda?

Antonio Álvarez Desanti – Lawyer and PLN Candidate

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Government Proposal versus Political Action Plan

Antonio Álvarez Desanti’s campaign has published two relevant documents outlining his vision of government. The Political Action Plan, is a document “based on strategic planning designed to meet the needs expressed by citizens.” More recently, the 2018-2022 Government Program was published, which addresses the issue of sustainability in chapter 14. It is important to differentiate between the Plan and the Program.  The first represents the position of “the trend and movement of Antonio Álvarez Desanti,” while the second “is a result of the union of the work of the secretaries of the Party, the experts who participated at the national convention, and broad sectors and commissions formed by the government plan.”  It is important to see how Álvarez Desanti’s initial strategy was contemplated, evolved and differed with respect to Álvarez Desanti’s current party’s program

Álvarez Desanti mentions in his program:

“Development must be sustainable. That is, we start from a principle of intergenerational equity, where growth and present development cannot be at the expense of future development.”

And Climate Action?

For starters, it is always reassuring to hear the phrase in Costa Rican politics: “climate change is real and it is here to stay.” While this seems simple, it cannot always be taken for granted that  politicians accept science and take it upon themselves to act on climate. The Government Program recently presented by the Álvarez Desanti campaign has been refocused and seems to reflect a language more similar to that of the international community in terms of climate governance.

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The Program tells us that any action we take “has the threat or opportunity of climate change” and that is why, apart from mitigating greenhouse gases, we must adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. In addition, he tells us, “the development model that is built must include climate change as a cross-cutting issue.” This is good news for the continuity of the effort made in recent years in terms of negotiations and project development to respond to the changing climate in Costa Rica.

The Program makes direct reference to the Paris Agreement and this is a positive development because it recognizes and proposes to comply with the structure that has been created. “The work in mitigation and adaptation must be applied in a cross-sectoral and immediate manner; the fulfillment of the commitments made by Costa Rica in the Paris Agreement, December 2015, must prevail.”

What does the Government Program propose?

  • The government, along with the planning process, will act immediately on the following topics:
    • Efficient public transportation
    • Clean energy
    • Public and private sector participation
  • “The country will maintain its diplomatic offensive based on the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities:”
    • Access to international resources established for mitigation and adaptation
    • Creation of internal economic instruments
  • Joint action by public and private institutions and individuals “because Costa Rica’s adaptation and mitigation to climate change is a shared responsibility”
  • Climate change is an opportunity for renewal in Costa Rica and humanity

The program mentions several actions that must be taken to encourage the generation of green jobs, boost production and comply with the provisions of environmental legislation and international agreements.

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Climate change is one of the variables considered in several key issues developed by the Government Plan.

  • Fuel sector
    • Abolish the use of petroleum derivatives for transportation by 2040
    • Internal combustion vehicles will no longer be imported in 2035
  • Electric sector
    • Greater private investment in electricity generation and promote the opening of the market
    • Diversification of the energy mix
    • Reduce production costs and the climatic vulnerability of the electrical system
    • Reduce Costa Rica’s carbon footprint
      • Replace 10 percent of combustion engines with electric, hybrid and other technologies
      • Implement electric means of public transportation
      • Create the first national network for electricity as fuel
      • Electrify the transport sector with electric trains, electric and water vehicles.
    • Land management
    • Institutional efficiency
    • Promptly rehabilitate the transportation infrastructure damaged by Tropical Storm Nate and adapt infrastructure to climate change
    • Land management actions  and urban management:
      • “Implementation of sectoral and local policies of mitigation, adaptation to climate change, vulnerability and risk for the promotion of balanced urban development through land management actions.”
    • Production sustainability and climate change:
      • “Expand and universalize payment for environmental services in agriculture and livestock, including agrosilvopastoral systems, linking credit programs and agricultural insurance with payment programs for environmental recognition and with the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA)”
      • Create a program to adapt to climate change through climate-friendly agriculture
      • Strengthen the alternative energy program
      • Expand the mix of alternative fuels by using biofuels
      • Create the agroclimatic information network
      • “Establish an Immediate Response Plan that includes Emergency Protocols and their respective Emergency Funds, for all institutions of the agricultural sector.”
      • Create an Agro Emergency Operations Center (COE-Agro)

The agricultural sector seems to be prioritized in the Government Program in terms of climate action, since it appears to have more concrete proposals that are related to climate change and actions that are already being developed.

But what did the Action Plan say initially?

The campaign of Álvarez Desanti in his Political Action Plan, which is the document he originally published, “the trend and movement of Antonio Álvarez Desanti,” had a section where he presented his thoughts on climate governance. It is interesting to examine this document to be able to contextualize and compare what Álvarez Desanti said at the beginning and what is now proposed to us in the Government Program.

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The intention of the Àlvarez Desanti Action Plan is to give priority to mitigation actions. This is interesting in itself, since the country has been promoting a synergy between adaptation and mitigation through the concept of “climate action,” as outlined in the NDC.

What does it mean to prioritize mitigation as opposed to the concept of climate action?

“Costa Rica will focus its climate change actions on increasing society’s resilience to the impact of climate change and strengthening the country’s capacity for low-emissions development over the long-term. Costa Rica will strengthen its climate action with efforts in reduction of emission of greenhouse effect gases, 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

While priority is given to mitigation, the statement in the Action Plan that “we must also carry out adaptation actions” cannot be disregarded. However, it is interesting to emphasize the intention to focus on mitigation, a proposal that can give room for a discussion on country’s priorities between mitigation and adaptation. This is done by putting in context the climatic threats with respect to which the country must adapt, in contrast to the tiny but harmful emissions of greenhouse gases that Costa Rica emits.

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In the 2018-2022 Government Program, this language disappears and changes to:

  • “In addition to mitigation, we must adapt to that reality.”
  • “The work in mitigation and adaptation must be applied in a cross-sectoral and immediate manner.”
  • “Because the adaptation and mitigation of Costa Rica to climate change is a shared responsibility.”

However, it is important that citizens ask how deep this shift has been in the perception of priorities regarding adaptation and mitigation, and whether these perspectives reflect differences between sectors that make up the candidate’s team.

Another of the assessments carried out by this plan is to consider that “Costa Rica was a world leader in climate change mitigation” and that the Costa Rican Climate Change Directorate (DCC) is “practically dismantled.” This statement is an interesting starting point from which we should investigate the vision that the candidate’s campaign has regarding the institutions that have led climate governance, and for better or worse, how should the DCC be made to more closely align with Álvarez Desanti’s vision?

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Click here for more information on the DCC

As one of its objectives, the Álvarez Desanti campaign cited Costa Rica’s return to global leadership on mitigation, and the direct effect it would have on tourism and the country’s brand.

“We propose to return Costa Rica to a place of honor in this matter, which will result in a better positioning of our country’s brand for the purpose of attracting tourists and environmentally friendly investments in tourism and in other sectors.”  Álvarez Desanti Political Action Plan

This initial approach of the Álvarez Desanti campaign seems to reflect a narrow view of why greenhouse gas mitigation actions were developed, seeing it as a strategy to encourage tourism and attract foreign investment.

In contrast, the concept of climate action that Costa Rica has developed in recent years represents a proposal for comprehensive development that boosts a low-emissions economy and a resilient society in the face of the adverse effects of climate change. Therefore, the focus of the climate proposal in the Political Action Plan seems to be weighted toward the tourism sector and that it could be used as a tool for attracting investment and marketing. This is far from the objectives established by the Paris Agreement and represents a fragmented vision of environmental and climate governance.

The above is changed in the proposal expressed in the Government Program of Álvarez Desanti, which does not mention tourism in direct relation to climate change and has a comprehensive view set forth in the Paris Agreement. However, it is a key point to investigate and assess the political vision of the movement that drives this candidacy.

Another of the assumptions on which this plan is based is that Costa Rica is approaching “the limits of expansion of forests as a vehicle for carbon capture,” so it is proposed to develop carbon capture through agricultural crops. In addition, existing resources have not been used for this purpose. These are issues that are somewhat addressed in greater detail in the 2018-2022 Government Program.

The issue of forests is intimately connected to Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA), which is mentioned in the Government Program, but not the Action Plan. And this is important, given that it is one of the main adaptation options that the country has and that has been expressly stated in the NDC. In addition, it is directly related to production, which is one of the main topics of Álvarez Desanti’s climate proposal.

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Costa Rica NDC

Regarding EbA, the Costa Rica NDC says:

“In adaptation, the country will continue its commitment based on the promotion of green and inclusive development under local action, strengthening conservation programs and expanding the payment program for environmental services to include adaptation based on ecosystems.” NDC – Costa Rica.

Regarding this point, when the Government Program refers to “payment for services,” nothing is mentioned about EbA. This is an interesting point of inquiry. How will EbA be implemented in relation to what is in the NDC?

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Click for more info about the candidates

Timely Mitigation Actions

  • If necessary, rethink the 2021 carbon neutrality goal
  • “Recover strategic actions” to reduce global emissions
  • Measurements and compensations for the capture that is achieved by different agricultural crops
  • An energy mix based on hydroelectric, wind, solar and thermal generation (see electricity section for development of other details)
  • Order the system of public transport and migration to transport units with less pollution (electricity, hybrids, natural gas or hydrogen)

Timely Adaptation Actions

  • Evaluation of road and bridge infrastructure and their vulnerability to extreme weather conditions
  • A state plan to gradually secure roads and bridges
  • Prevention plan for the possible salinization of coastal aquifers due to the lower recharge because of climate change and the greater urban growth of tourist infrastructure. (Focused mainly in Nicoya, Guanacaste)
  • Evaluating vulnerability to storms and sea level rise of populations in critical areas, particularly on the coast.
  • Extension of coverage of insurance policies, particularly housing and agricultural
  • Organization and strengthening of civil defense systems within the framework of the National Emergency Commission

In terms of mitigation and adaptation, the proposals of the Action Plan of Álvarez Desanti respond in some way to the issues that have been discussed at the national level. It is evident that in the recently published 2018 – 2022 Government Program, there was a significant synchronization between what was proposed and what was developed by Costa Rica in its climate governance.

Rethinking carbon neutrality…

In the Action Plan, a special mention is made of the 2021 carbon neutrality goal.  The Plan calls for rethinking this goal. We know that with decarbonization, the country has set a much more ambitious goal than carbon neutrality, which is in accordance with the Paris Agreement. This is a curious point, which the Government Plans settles by stating:

“The route towards decarbonization (in 2030 Costa Rica must reduce emissions by 25% compared to 2012)”

It is comforting that this vision has been revised by the Álvarez Desanti team, since the initial climate proposal, beginning with rethinking carbon neutrality as the main focus, is severely outdated. Decarbonization is the heart of mitigation actions, much of this project centers  on sustainable development and low emissions in the country.

It would be interesting to ask how the mitigation actions that are proposed in the Government Program of Álvarez Desanti are going to fit with the trajectory to achieve decarbonization. Regarding this issue, what counts in the end are the numbers of tons of carbon and the financing that will facilitate this change.

How will these actions be financed and carried out?

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Costa Rica NDC

Some proposals set forth in the website publications:

  • “Start a program of transformation of public transportation to gradually replace vehicles by units that use clean energy, electricity, or others that are developed in the future.
  • Build an integrated public transportation system, including a metropolitan electric train (or other superior alternative, if any), buses, taxis and other public and private means of transportation.
  • Initiate a change in the state fleet toward electric vehicles or other technologies by 2018.
  • Prohibit the importation of vehicles that use fuels derived from petroleum by the year 2035. 

These commitments that are posted on Álvarez Desanti’s campaign website can also be connected to the NDC.

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Costa Rica NDC

The NDC is the guiding document for climate governance in Costa Rica. In this document, it is proposed that the public transportation system and existing fleet must be improved by means of an integrated and sectorized system. In addition, it proposes the integration of non-motorized transportation, the extension of the train, such as the prioritization of an inter-urban electric train; and modernizing cargo transportation to a multimodal one. In short, Costa Rica proposed “the development of an ambitious portfolio of investment in sustainable transport.” The commitments of the candidate Álvarez Desanti can fit that vision, but are they connected with current governance or do they follow a logic of their own? This is a good question for the candidate so that the public should be able to visualize how they are going to address these issues.

The continuity and aspiration of climate governance at the national level is essential

The energy issue is also of great relevance as it is part of the key sectors for mitigation, according to the NDC and the National Climate Change Strategy. In this sense, Álvarez Desanti has declared that a process of energy transition must be initiated.  According to Álvarez Desanti:

“This great transformation will allow us to generate new jobs that the country needs, both skilled and unskilled jobs with the construction and design of new solar parks, the promotion of wind generation, the development of geothermal energy sources that generate the resources for the sustainability of National Parks, the diversification of the way in which we distribute the new clean electricity, the generation of specialists in the design and maintenance of new fleets of private vehicles and clean buses, and the construction of trains with clean energy.”

However, this great transformation that is mentioned and for which very specific actions are proposed, slightly mentions the essential tools of climate governance, that originated from a long and involved process. There is a path internationally designed and published for this great transition.  The country’s projects should be directed from these conversations and commitments to ensure their continuity and progress.

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More information on where to vote in Costa Rica

On the other hand, Álvarez Desanti’s proposal does not mention the systems of accountability, transparency and information promoted by the NDC, which are essential for the Enhanced Transparency Framework of the Paris Agreement and for the Global Stocktake. Neither was there any mention of the NAMAs, National Carbon Market, construction of the Adaptation Plan or the Deliberative Councils of Open Participation.

We need to learn more about a cross-cutting issue, such as climate change, which is key to the development of our country and thus deepen the analysis of the government proposals of the candidates for the Presidency of Costa Rica.

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More information about climate change

It is necessary to establish a dialogue about what the candidates propose in their programs, action plans and the key tools of national climate governance, such as the NDC. In this way, we can guarantee progress, transparency and continuous advancement for the climate action that the Paris Agreement asks of us. This is a task that every citizen must take when exercising their right and democratic power.

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.

 

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