The Deplorable Climate Agenda of Jair Bolsonaro

The recent attack on far-right candidate and congressman, Jair Bolsanaro, has plunged Brazil’s upcoming presidential election into chaos and enhanced the prospects of a dangerous candidate who has expressed deplorable views and promotes an anti-environmental agenda.  

A right-wing populist, Bolsonaro poses a major threat to his nation’s climate commitments, promising to follow President Donald Trump’s lead and withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement.

Bolsonaro, described by The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman as the most misogynistic, hateful elected official in the democratic world,” was stabbed at a campaign rally on September 7.  Although he lost 40 percent of his blood, he is improving and remains in the race.  In the first poll since the attack, Bolsonaro rose in popularity to a high of 30 percent, with no other candidate getting more than 12 percent.

A Bolsonaro victory would land a devastating blow to Brazil’s democracy.  Bolsonaro, who is currently capitalizing on a global wave of right-wing populism, has a history of making derogatory statements about marginalized groups.   He has shown a contempt for democratic norms, boasting at a campaign rally that he would like to shoot corrupt members of the popular Workers’ Party (PT) and has referred to the nation’s 1964-1985 military dictatorship as avery goodperiod.  

“Like Donald Trump, Bolsonaro is a racist,” says Paulo Lima, a Brazilian journalist and Executive Director of the non-profit Viração Educomunicação. “He is also a defender of guns.  He is against the rights of the LGBTI population and against the  women’s rights movement.” Paulo Lima, Brazilian Journalist.

The Lula Effect

The prospects of a Bolsonaro presidency rose dramatically on August 31 when Brazil’s Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) declared former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, or “Lula,” ineligible for a third term.   He is currently in jail, and could appeal a 12-year sentence for corruption and money laundering.

Prior to being declared ineligible, Lula was consistently polling ahead of Bolsonaro.  According to one CNT/MDA study in August, Lula polled at 21.8 percent, while Bolsonaro was at 18.4 percent.

Foto: Wikimedia Commons

While Lula’s center-left PT differs considerably from Bolsonaro’s far-right Social Liberal Party, Bolsonaro could attract Lula’s populist-minded voters.

“The ‘outsider’ and ‘maverick’ image Bolsonaro tries to project in his campaign has also attracted non-ideological voters who would be with Lula if he was the candidate,” says Bruno Heilton Toledo Hisamoto, a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo, speaking to La Ruta del Clima.  “That is, voters who like Lula’s style more than PT’s ideological platform and see this style in Bolsonaro. Thus, from the right, Bolsonaro gathers the votes that would traditionally go to a moderate Brazilian Social Democracy Party and manages to capture some of the votes that would go to Lula in normal circumstances.”

The Rise of Bolsonaro

Bolsonaro’s message has resonated with a Brazilian electorate fed up with rampant corruption in their country.  Current President Michel Temer of the Brazilian Democratic Movement party has had an approval rating in the single digits for months.  Since assuming power following the controversial impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff, Temer has been besieged with charges of corruption and obstruction of justice

To rally support, Bolsonaro has vowed to take on corruption and crime, while attacking marginalized groups in the process.

“Bolsonaro draws heavily on the discourse of Donald Trump, to whom he repeatedly paid public tribute since before his election,” says Toledo. “Like Trump, Bolsonaro wants to project the image of an outsider willing to challenge the political establishment and to end traditional politics, despite the fact that he has been a congressman for almost 30 years, with his sons holding elective positions in all areas of the legislature.” Bruno Heilton Toledo Hisamoto, a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo.

A retired captain of the Brazilian army, Bolsonaro also appeals to a militaristic nationalism and accuses the left of being “globalist,” says Toledo. “At this point, he also resorts to xenophobia, rejecting the entry of immigrants into the country since they can ‘steal jobs’ from Brazilian workers.”

Bolsonaro and the Paris Agreement

While climate change has not played a major role in this year’s presidential campaign, and Bolsonaro’s intentions to leave the Paris Agreement have been little more than a footnote in his campaign message, withdrawal would have serious ramifications for both Brazil and the international community. Brazil, which is home to the world’s largest rainforest and ninth-largest economy, is also considered the likely host for the 2019 climate negotiations.  

Bolsonaro’s proposed withdrawal was met with harsh criticism from UN Environmental chief Erik Durkheim, who stated: “A rejection of the Paris Agreement is a rejection of science and fact. It’s also a false promise, because politicians who present climate action as a cost to society have got it all wrong.”

However, as Toledo notes, it would be difficult for Bolsonaro to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement because the text was ratified by Congress and the President does not have immediate power to denounce it.  “In addition, many Brazilian states also have climate commitments that are independent of federal government action and virtually all large Brazilian companies in all economic sectors are signatories to international declarations in favor of climate actions.”

“My fear here is more practical than legal. A hypothetical Bolsonaro government could sabotage important measures to facilitate the achievement of Brazil’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, especially in deforestation combat and agriculture. If Bolsonaro loosens only land-use change legislation, the effects on national greenhouse gas emissions would be large.” Bruno Heilton Toledo Hisamoto, a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at the University of São Paulo.

Concern has also been expressed by Lima, who is fearful:

“If Brazil were to abandon the Paris Agreement, it would have huge consequences  for us and it would be a big setback. First of all, Brazil would cease to be a major player in the international arena and in negotiations within the UNFCCC and the Conference of Parties. Brazil would become a major planetary threat because the Amazon would run the risk of totally disappearing.  Bolsonaro wants to further strengthen agro-business and the advancement of livestock in the Amazon. This means more deforestation plus increased carbon dioxide and methane emissions, the principal greenhouse gases.” Paulo Lima, Brazilian Journalist.

Much is on the line when voters in the world’s fourth-largest democracy go to the polls this October.  A Bolsonaro victory would deliver a devastating blow to the nation’s social, democratic and environmental prospects.


Argentina’s Climate Agenda Compromised by Expanding Fracking Frontier


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Source: Ministry of Energy

Argentina’s commitment to the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement and its reputation as a regional climate leader stand to be compromised by the rapid expansion of shale oil and gas development in the nation’s interior.

Macri’s climate agenda

Argentine President Mauricio Macri has positioned Argentina as a leader in climate action since he assumed the presidency in December 2015.  Under this center-right president’s leadership, Argentina became one of the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement, with unanimous backing from its congress.  A few months into office, Macri created an inter-ministerial National Cabinet on Climate Change to help “facilitate a coordinated policy response to climate change.”  Macri partnered with President Barack Obama to cut emissions from air flights and facilitate the development of renewable energy.  Argentina’s Ministry of Energy has launched a renewable energy bidding program, with the goal of 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewables by 2025.

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“Climate change is the most important challenge, the greatest of humanity and only by being aware of this will we be able to progress, without jeopardizing our future and that of the next generations,” said Macri, addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations.  “In Argentina, we are making an ambitious commitment – in terms of renewable energy – to develop our potential in sectors such as the generation of solar, wind and biomass.”

The reserves of Vaca Muerta

However, Argentina’s climate agenda is being undermined by the administration’s commitment to exploiting the nation’s massive shale oil and gas reserves.  Argentina, which already generates 60 percent of its electricity from fossil fuels, has one of the largest shale gas reserves in the world. The U.S. Energy Information Administration has identified nearly 802 million trillion cubic feet of shale gas reserves, second only to China.  Most of these reserves are located in the Vaca Muerta geologic formation in the country’s Neuquén Basin.

To extract oil and gas, Argentina has embraced hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  This controversial technology involves injecting huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to free reserves trapped deep underground. Along with the United States and Canada, Argentina has emerged as a global leader in shale gas production and is regarded as the fracking capital of the region. Argentina, where oil production from fracking is expected to triple over the next five years, has drawn interest from international oil conglomerates such as Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell PLC and BP.

“Argentina is among the countries with the greatest potential in the world. We want the best companies to come and partner with us,” Macri said in a lunch with oil executives in Houston.

Fracking and Argentina’s climate goals

Macri’s embrace of the fossil fuel industry and expansion of the fracking frontier could undercut its goals set forth in the nation’s Nationally Determined Contribution.

“It has a big impact in terms of the climate commitments,” said Enrique Maurtua Konstantinidis, Senior Climate Change Advisor for the Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN), speaking to La Ruta del Clima. “The protections around Vaca Muerta and use of shale oil and gas is a big threat. … In this regard, we cannot invest in an industry that actually goes against the Paris Agreement.”

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, went even further in her criticism of Argentina’s use of fracking. In an op-ed for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Morgan wrote:

“Macri’s economic reputation and climate legacy hinge on the country’s next move. Investing in Vaca Muerta – the world’s largest undeveloped non-conventional shale oil and gas reserve – would unleash a carbon bomb incompatible with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

Argentina, like many nations, is struggling to reach its modest targets under the Paris Agreement.  To honor its commitments, Argentina, which is already on track to become one of the most attractive markets in Latin America for renewable energy development, must move to limit shale oil and gas exploration.   


López Obrador Sets Mexico on the Right Path with Plan to End Fracking


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Source: López Obrador Facebook Page

The promise of Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, marks a major win for environmental activists.

When asked at a July 31 press conference about the potential risks associated with the technology, Lopez Obrador made it clear his incoming administration will change course.  “We will no longer use that method to extract petroleum,” announced López Obrador, according to the Associated Press.

If Mexico does this, it will join nations such as FranceGermanyBulgaria,and Ireland that have banned this controversial technology.

Fracking is an extreme technology used to extract oil and gas from shale and other rock formations.  The process involves injecting huge amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure to free reserves trapped deep underground.  While fracking has been around for decades, it exploded in the mid-2000s, when the technology was combined with horizontal drilling and other technologies.

Fracking has also been the subject of much criticism.  While some have promoted this technology as a favorable alternative to coal, others have rightly criticized it as a “bridge to nowhere.” They have argued that the technology has led to an increase in methane emissions, a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and slowed the development of renewable technologies.  In a 2016 piece for The Nation, climate activist and co-founder of Bill McKibben wrote, “One of the nastiest side effects of the fracking boom, in fact, is that the expansion of natural gas has undercut the market for renewables, keeping us from putting up windmills and solar panels at the necessary pace.”

A host of other concerns are also raised by fracking.  A 2016 report by the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that fracking has the potential to contaminate drinking water supplies.  A recent study by the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility linked fracking to a higher risk of asthma, birth defects and cancer.  The technology has also been connected to increased seismic activity.

This process has revolutionized the oil and gas industry in the United States, where domestic oil and gas production has increased dramatically in recent years.  In 2012, the United States became the world’s top petroleum and gas producer, largely as a result of the nation’s fracking boom.

Fracking has expanded rapidly in Latin America. Argentina, with its Vaca Muerta rock formation holding one of the world’s largest shale gas reserves, is considered the fracking capital of the region.  Colombia has been in the exploratory stages of embracing this technology after the nation’s Ministry of Mines and Energy gave fracking the go-ahead in 2014.

But fracking has met with growing opposition in the region.  Earlier this month, activists and more than 30 legislators presented a bill to end fracking in Colombia.  Meanwhile, Uruguay instituted a four-year ban on the technology in 2017.

Mexico, with the shale-rich Burgos Basin on its northern border, has been coveted by private investors looking to exploit the nation’s reserves.  The nation opened itself up to fracking and foreign investment in recent years following the passage of a 2014 energy reform bill. In 2017, the country opened the Burgos Basin to private investment for natural gas exploitation.  Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned petroleum company, announced its intention to drill more than 27,000 wells in the shale-rich formations in the states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Veracruz by 2045.

Although Lopez Obrador’s stance on fracking is encouraging, he has also spoken out in favor of ramping up oil and gas production in recent weeks, pledging to increase Mexico’s domestic oil production from 1.9 million barrels per day to 2.5 million.  Lopez Obrador has stated his administration will invest $9.4 billion in the state-owned energy sector and will oversee the construction of two new oil refineries.

Lopez Obrador offers an intriguing departure from Enrique Peña Nieto’s unpopular administration.  While his energy plan appears to be far from perfect, his decision to ban fracking should be considered a major step in the right direction.

Ireland’s Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill Highlights Success of a Growing Movement

Source: Trócaire ‏

Ireland is on track to become the first nation to divest from fossil fuel companies.  The Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill, expected to become law soon, requires the nation to get rid of $350 million in investments in 150 oil, gas, coal, and peat companies.  This will be one of the biggest wins to date for the fossil fuel divestment movement.

The move drew praise from environmentalists and progressive politicians around the world. Commending this initiative, U.S. environmental activist and co-founder of Bill McKibben stated on Twitter, “Ireland’s decision to divest from fossil fuels staggers me. It’s one of the landmark moments in what has become the largest campaign of its kind in history. Such thanks to all who fought.”

The lower house of Parliament passed the divestment bill to remove fossil fuels from the country’s €8 billion national investment fund.  The bill is expected to pass the upper house and has the support of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.  Once enacted, Ireland will move ahead with its divestment plan “as soon as practicable” with the expectation that this will occur within five years. 

“I think it’s significant in shaping the whole argument around climate change. The fact that the Government is accepting it should strengthen … its commitment,” said Irish Parliament member Thomas Pringle, who introduced the bill. “Ireland must take on its fair share of the burden of climate action.”

The bill is poised to help change Ireland’s reputation as a climate “laggard.” Climate Action Network Europe ranked Ireland as the second worst actor in the European Union in the fight against climate change, finishing only behind Poland.

What is divestment?

The fossil fuel divestment movement, which was started by in 2010, seeks to have a broad of range of institutions eliminate their investments in coal, oil, and gas companies.  Most of the campaigns focus on a list of the top 200 fossil fuel companies.  Inspiration comes from the success of previous divestment campaigns,  most notably the worldwide 1980s campaign to divest from South Africa as a protest of apartheid.  

While the divestment movement has become a popular tactic to attack the driving forces of climate change, it is not without critics, who have panned the movement as being futile and misguided.  They have questioned whether the movement will result in significant action against climate change.

However, the impact of the divestment movement, which is still in its early stages, has become clear.   The net total of investment funds committed to divesting from fossil fuels has already topped $6 trillion. The coal giant Peabody Energy, which filed for bankruptcy in April 2016, noted in a report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that divestment efforts could “adversely affect the demand for and price of securities issued by us, and impact our access to the capital and financial markets.”

The most important impact of the divestment campaign may be the long-term effect of stigmatizing fossil fuel companies.  As McKibben notes, “What it will do is begin the process, further the process, of politically bankrupting them.”

A growing movement

The fossil fuel divestment movement has been gaining steam in recent years as a large number of high-profile pledges from faith-based organizations, philanthropic foundations, governments, educational institutions, pension funds, NGOs, corporations, and healthcare institutions have propelled the movement.  Norway has pledged to partially divest fossil fuel investments from its massive $1 trillion sovereign wealth fund.   In January, New York City Mayor Bill Di Blasio declared that his city would divest the city’s pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.             

With the passage of this bill, Ireland has undergone a “seismic shift” to become a leader in climate action.  This bill is a massive win for a growing movement that hopes to put an end to fossil fuel dominance.

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AMLO and the Future of Climate Governance in Mexico

Villahermosa, Tabasco

Mexico is in for a change, with the election of Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the coming to power of the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) party.  What remains unclear is what kind of change and how extensive it will be.

On July 1, the former mayor of Mexico City, López Obrador, won the nation’s presidency in a landslide.  Lopez Obrador, or AMLO as he is often called, ran on a populist platform, promising to clean up corruption and combat inequality.

While his victory was welcomed by leftist politicians around the world such as British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, former Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner, and French politican Jean-Luc Mélenchon, he has also been treated with considerable skepticism. His brand of populism has been unfavorably compared to that of U.S. President Donald Trump and former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.  He has been called many things, such as a nationalist, leftist ideologue, pragmatist, authoritarian and centrist.

Mexico and Climate Change

In recent years, Mexico has played an important role in international climate change negotiations.  Mexico hosted the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancún and has been a leader in climate governance on the global stage.

Under outgoing President Enrique Peña Nieto’s leadership, Mexico submitted a bold plan for its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, committing to reduce by 22 percent its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Mexico became an active contributor to the Green Climate Fund and collaborated with President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop the North American Climate, Clean Energy, and Environment Partnership Action Plan, which seeks to advance clean and secure energy, drive down climate pollutants, promote clean and efficient transportation, and show global leadership in addressing climate change This plan boldly sets forth the goal of 50 percent clean power generation in North America by 2025.

Mexico recognizes its global responsibility with a solid commitment to mitigate greenhouse gases in order to nourish the new agreement to be adopted in COP 21 Paris, 2015 under the UNFCCC.” – President Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico further solidified its position as a climate leader with the selection of Patricia Espinosa as the new Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC.  Espinosa, who served as Secretary of Foreign Affairs under President Felipe Calderón, replaced Costa Rica’s Christiana Figueres to lead the Secretariat in 2016.

The Rise of López Obrador

López Obrador’s campaign capitalized on a wave of global populism and a deep dissatisfaction with systemic corruption under Peña Nieto’s watch.  His message of fighting corruption, ending the drug war, and redistributing wealth resonated with a public that had grown weary of Peña Nieto and his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

López Obrador’s critical comments about President Trump also appealed to voters.  He has often spoken out against Trump and his demeaning treatment of Mexican people, going so far as to say: “Trump and his advisers speak of the Mexicans the way Hitler and the Nazis referred to the Jews, just before undertaking the infamous persecution and the abominable extermination.”

Despite being critical of Trump, López Obrador and the U.S. President have demonstrated a willingness to work with one another. During the campaign, López Obrador said, “I want a friendly relationship with the government of the United States, but not one of subordination.  Mexico is a free country, it is a sovereign nation. We will not be subject to any foreign government.”

Voters responded to López Obrador message by voting overwhelmingly for the candidate.  The second-place candidate, Ricardo Anaya of the National Action Party (PAN), finished nearly 30 points behind López Obrador.  PRI candidate Jose Antonio Mead received only 16 percent, delivering yet another resounding defeat to establishment party politics.

López Obrador and Climate Change Governance

It remains to be seen if López Obrador will build on the progress made by the previous administration with respect to climate change governance.  He did not emphasize climate change mitigation and adaptation and the implementation of the Paris Agreement during his campaign.

López Obrador has spoken out extensively on how to manage Mexico’s vast oil and gas reserves, calling for sweeping reforms in energy policy and pushing for greater self-sufficiency in the energy sector.  He has also pushed back against foreign investment in Mexico’s extractive sector, at one point declaring that he will make sure that oil does not “fall back into the hands of foreigners.”  What’s more, López Obrador and his designated Energy Secretary, Rocío Nahle García, have called for energy auctions to be halted.  López Obrador wants to increase Mexico’s refining capacity and exploit the nation’s natural gas reserves.

Earlier this year, López Obrador did meet with former U.S. Vice President and founder of the Climate Reality Project, Al Gore.  The two agreed to work together to promote renewable energy development and combat climate change.

López Obrador’s party, MORENA, emphasizes the importance of transitioning to renewable energy sources and reaffirmed its commitment to the implementation of the Paris Agreement in its 2018-2024 National Plan.  According to the plan, “An orderly, but accelerated, transition toward renewable energy…poses the opportunity to draw the country’s roadmap for the next generations from a clear strategic vision of sustainability to move toward a new civilizational paradigm of the future.”

At a recent press conference, Josefa González Blanco, who will serve as Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources under López Obrador, presented an environmental agenda for the next administration that centered on mitigating and adapting to climate change.   Agenda items include a zero deforestation goal through the promotion of community forest management, strengthening of Mexico’s international policies to combat climate change, adoption of alternative technologies and raising awareness about climate change.

While there is definitely reason for optimism following López Obrador’s landslide victory, it remains unclear how he will approach climate governance.  The world will be watching.


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ben Jealous and the Democratic Party Green Wave

Source: Twitter

The recent success of progressive candidates in primary races on June 26 in New York and Maryland show that a transformation may be under way in the Democratic Party.

The victories of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old democratic socialist candidate for New York’s 14th Congressional District, and Ben Jealous, the former President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who is running for Governor of Maryland, were held up as key wins by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.

A former Bernie Sanders organizer, Ocasio-Cortez upset incumbent Joe Crowley, the fourth-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, by a stunning 15 percentage points.  She is expected to easily defeat her Republican opponent this November in a heavily Democratic district in the Bronx and Queens boroughs of New York City.  Jealous, a vocal supporter of Sanders during the 2016 election, easily defeated his primary opponent Rushern Baker.  He will face off with the Republican Governor Larry Hogan this November.

Both candidates are running on progressive platforms, calling for a “Medicare for all” universal health care system, marijuana legalization and criminal justice reform.  Ocasio-Cortez even went so far as to call for the abolishment of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Each has embraced ambitious plans for climate change governance.

Ocasio-Cortez has called climate change the “single biggest national security threat for the United States and the single biggest threat to worldwide industrialized civilization.”  She seeks a Green New Deal and is campaigning on eliminating fossil fuels and modernizing the electrical grid by 2035. 

Ocasio-Cortez, whose mother was born in Puerto Rico, has placed the island at the center of her platform.  In an email to Huffington Post journalist Alexander Kaufman, Ocasio-Cortez stated:

“What we are proposing is the complete mobilization of the American workforce to combat climate change and income inequality simultaneously.  We should begin by rebuilding the infrastructure of Puerto Rico.  Our fellow Americans on the island have suffered horrendous losses and need investment at a scale that only the American government can provide. The green new deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War 2 or the Marshall Plan.  It will require the investment of trillions of dollars and the creation of millions of high-wage jobs.”

Jealous has a history of environmental advocacy.  He launched a Climate Justice Program as head of the NAACP, risked arrest to protest the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, and has been a staunch opponent of fracking.  Jealous has promised to set a deadline for 100 percent clean and renewable energy if elected governor.

Jealous has been lauded for his environmental agenda as a gubernatorial candidate, receiving endorsements from prominent environmental organizations such as and Friends of the Earth.  As Executive Director Mary Boeve stated:

“If we want more elected officials who are ready to tackle the climate crisis next year, we need more candidates on the ballot this year who aren’t afraid of bold climate action…Ben Jealous [is] committed to protecting communities around the world facing greater risk everyday as the planet warms. [He is] already helping to build the fossil-free future we know is possible.”

In upcoming primary elections, other Democrats with bold environmental agendas are hoping to ride this new green wave.  Kaniela Ing, a congressional candidate from Hawaii, is running on an environmental platform calling for the phasing out of fossil fuel cars by 2030 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.  Former Sex and the City television star Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, is campaigning on a climate justice platform that calls for the transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

While these candidates face a difficult road ahead to implement their bold agendas, they represent a significant departure from establishment party politics.  The rise of this green wave should be a welcome change by climate activists seeking to reform the Democratic party. 



Opinion: Berta did not die, she multiplied

Poster of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres

We honor International Women’s Day.

To mark the occasion, various women’s organizations and the Federation of Indigenous Mayan Women (Consejera Mujeres Maya Chorti & Red de Mujeres) held a women’s march. The women and their allies marched from the ancient Mayan ruins in the outskirts of the town of Copan Ruinas to the center of the town. Fists raised in defiance, the women were making known their unanimous opposition to economic imperialism, corruption, exploitation and the violence and abuse that has plagued their communities for far too long.

Unfortunately, the story of exploitation and violations of fundamental rights in Latin America traces back to a long history that has its roots in a tradition of colonization and slavery. Despite popular belief, the culture of slavery and colonization has never really left this continent and many local indigenous communities and campesinos (rural workers) in Honduras continue to suffer from systemic economic and political oppression. With wages under $1 a day, modern hyper-capitalistic economy, as espoused by the United States throughout Latin America, resembles a system of resource extortion and wage slavery.  

Mayan women’s indigenous march takes control of the city hall. Photo: Josselin Casselman

Women are often most affected

Women are often most affected by the exploits of the prevailing system that has sustained, and in many instances, increased poverty levels throughout the global south. Unpaid labor among indigenous women and in rural communities is a common reality. Indigenous women are disproportionately victims of abuse, harassment and assassination. Oftentimes in these communities, the perpetrators of violence are never prosecuted because the authorities and systems of justice are unresponsive to the plight of the poor and the marginalized. Violence and abuse is part of the normalized experience of indigenous women, not only in Honduras, but throughout Latin America.

The same systems of oppression that saw indigenous nations of the Americas enslaved, massacred and marginalized by the millions during European colonization, very much continues to this day with a modern makeover. Forces of exploitation and colonization today march under the flag of multinational corporations, big business and oligarchical elitist regimes that rarely represent the interests of the common people.  In Copan, where I work, just down the road from where some of the local indigenous communities are located, hydroelectric projects and mining operations are already busy at work extracting precious resources from the rivers and the lands that are part of indigenous peoples’ territories. In the aftermath of their activities, the local populations are left only with pollution and degradation to deal with on their own.  After all, the sickness and infected bodies of the exploited Indians in far away lands are out of sight and out of mind for the average North American consumer, who is solely concerned with the availability of cheap products.

Mayan women march under the banner of Berta. Photo: Josselin Casselman

People are mobilizing and responding

Fortunately, in the face of ever growing economic, social and political challenges, the people are mobilizing and responding. Women, especially, are increasingly becoming a beacon of hope and leading the way for a brighter future. Yet, women activists here in Honduras are more and more at risk of abuse, murder and violence. The march organized for International Women’s Day by the Mayan women of Copan coincided with the anniversary of the assassination of the world renowned environmental activist, indigenous leader, and human rights advocate, Berta Cáceres. The activists, almost entirely composed of women- mothers, sisters, grandmothers- walked in unison under the banner that read: “Berta no murió, se multiplicó” (Berta did not die, she multiplied). Many of the women present at the march are risking their lives.


The activists, almost entirely composed of women- mothers, sisters, grandmothers- walked in unison under the banner that read: “Berta did not die, she multiplied.”

Many of the women present at the march risk their lives.

The women of the communities are fundamentally engaged in the fight for the preservation of the environment, sustainability, human dignity and improvement of living conditions for their communities. Women are often concerned with the wellbeing of more than just themselves; they are far more dedicated to also assist their communities, their families, their daughters and sons. Without them and their selfless dedication, the grassroots struggle for justice and human rights would not be nearly as active or effective.

Berta Lives On, an artistic expression by the local Honduran artist: Andrea Fonseca Cahin

It is the women who are often on the frontlines of the social struggles against oppressive systems and injustice against their communities and their families. It is no exception that in the district of Copan, Honduras, it is the women’s organizations and women leaders who are the most active advocates in defense of fundamental rights.

Suffice to say, it is a sacred duty that we owe to honor the women of our own communities, not just on any particular day, but over and over again every day. For it is through the women’s continued struggle for equality and justice that the spirit of dignity and resistance is kept alive. I am truly inspired by them. To the extent possible, we must all march with the women of the communities side by side, in the same footsteps of Berta Cáceres, if we are to honor our own humanity and the planet – Mother Earth. #BertaVive

Costa Rica 2018 Election: A Change in Climate Governance?

The first place finish of National Restoration Party candidate Fabricio Alvarado in the opening round of the 2018 elections in Costa Rica sent shock waves through Latin America’s oldest democracy.

Foto Facebook: Fabricio Alvarado

Alvarado, a journalist, singer and Evangelical preacher, rose from 3 percent in the polls in January to gain nearly a quarter of the votes in the first round of the elections on February 4, primarily as a result of his opposition to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in January ordering Costa Rica to recognize same-sex marriage.  Alvarado has threatened to pull Costa Rica out of the Inter-American Court, arguing that the decision is a violation of Costa Rica’s sovereignty.  He will face Carlos Alvarado, a center-left candidate from the ruling Citizens’ Action Party, in a runoff election on April 1st.


While Fabricio Alvarado has been outspoken in his positions on same-sex marriage, abortion and sex education in public schools, his plans on climate change remain unclear.  The environmental proposals addressed in his 56-page Government Plan lack specificity and an understanding of current climate governance structures, standing in stark contrast to Carlos Alvarado’s Plan.

Foto Facebook: Fabricio  Alvarado
Foto Facebook: Fabricio  Alvarado

Fabricio Alvarado is clearly ahead of his rival, leading by nearly 15 percentage points in a recent El Mundo poll.  Following February’s elections, the National Restoration Party now controls 14 of the 57 seats in Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly, second only to the center-right National Liberation Party’s 17 seats.  Fabricio Alvarado was previously the party’s lone congressman.

A victory by the National Restoration Party in the presidential runoff will likely trigger significant changes in governance from the current administration of Luis Guillermo Solís. While topics of religion, gender and human rights have dominated the political discourse in recent weeks, there could also be a significant departure from the current administration’s climate governance policies.

Costa Rica has long been regarded as a leader in climate governance and has adopted bold and innovative environmental policies under the current administration.  With Solís at the helm, Costa Rica signed the Paris Agreement and set forth its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), which establishes ambitious targets for a developing nation, reaffirming its goal of carbon neutrality and pledging to become a country of zero net emissions by 2085.  Solís also extended Costa Rica’s ban on petroleum exploration and extraction through 2021.  And this past January, Solís signed into law an electric transportation bill that incentivizes the use of all-electric vehicles.

Fabricio Alvarado devotes an entire section of his Government Plan to Sustainable Environmental Restoration and highlights the importance of addressing the issue of global warming.  In his Government Plan, Alvarado states:

“The world is currently on the precipice of environmental catastrophe if the governments of the world do not take urgent measures to stop global warming, pollution and the destruction of our ecosystems. The Christian stewardship that lies at the basis of our ideology, understood as the obligation that we have to care for and preserve God’s creation, is expressed in our concern for the environment and sustainable development.”

Alvarado goes on to outline a series of sustainable action proposals, calling for the continuation of electricity produced through clean sources and ensuring that sustainability is incorporated in all orders for national development policies.  In addition, he calls for a new mining code to help pay off the country’s debt while leaving a green footprint and a new forest management policy that looks to improve the sustainable market options for Costa Rican wood.

Although Fabricio Alvarado seems to have some grasp of the urgency of environmental issues we face, he fails to make specific reference to climate adaptation and mitigation in his government plan, nor does he mention to Costa Rica’s NDC.  While the idea of Sustainable Environmental Restoration may be appealing, he fails to link his policies to the Paris Agreement or other international documents.  

Many of the policy proposals outlined in his government plan lack specificity and a timetable for action.  For example, Alvarado calls for the stiffening of penalties for public or private actions that undermine the country’s environmental sustainability.  It is unclear what actions Alvarado would consider to be detrimental to the country, how severe these penalties would be and how they would be implemented.

This stands in stark contrast to Carlos Alvarado’s Government Plan, which builds upon the work of the Solís administration and offers comprehensive proposals for climate governance.  His Plan is based on two principal  goals:

  • Advance the decarbonization of the economy through actions to reduce emissions.
  • Implement effective mitigation, adaptation and risk management policies to be a nation resilient to climate change.

Most importantly, Carlos Alvarado’s proposals directly address the need to fulfill the goals set forth in the Paris Agreement.  Alvarado plans to uphold Costa Rica’s promise of becoming a carbon neutral country by 2021 and honor the goals of Costa Rica’s NDC.  Alvarado hopes to make Costa Rica a global model for decarbonization.  

A Carlos Alvarado administration would likely maintain Costa Rica’s place as a global leader in climate governance, but a Fabricio Alvarado-led government would largely be a step into the unknown.  While other issues have dominated the news cycle, Solís’ impressive climate legacy may be at stake when Costa Rican voters go to the polls on April 1.



Elections in Costa Rica and Climate Change: Antonio Álvarez Desanti


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.


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


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

Alvarez Photo.png

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.

Desanti 2

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.

Acciones planteadas.png

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.


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.


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?

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.

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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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?

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.

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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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.

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.


Election in Costa Rica and Climate Change: Candidate Juan Diego Castro

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.

More information about each candidate

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.

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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:

  1. Fiscal situation
  2. Infrastructure
  3. Unemployment
  4. Criminality
  5. Pensions
  6. Waiting lists for the Costa Rican Social Security Fund
  7. Training for employment

The strategic themes are:

  1. Corruption
  2. The structure and functioning of the state
  3. Competitiveness and economic growth
  4. The justice system and security
  5. Environmental sustainability
  6. Health system
  7. 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.

Environmental theme…

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.

More information about climate change

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.