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.
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.
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.
(Reminder: La Ruta del Clima has a neutral position with respect to the electoral candidates and the purpose of this series of articles is to inform and facilitate a critical analysis for our readers.)
In these months, we are nearing a change in government in Costa Rica. The electoral process in this country will bring changes, and it is important to analyze in detail how the issue of climate change is reflected in the main agendas of the presidential candidates.
At the international level, Costa Rica is a leader on the issue of climate governance, with its agenda well defined by its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). When Costa Rica ratified the Paris Agreement, it was required to develop a NDC, a commitment in which the country establishes targets to comply with global climate objectives. It is a short- to medium-term plan in which the country establishes a commitment to decarbonize its economy and become more resilient in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.
Recently, the University of Costa Rica’s Semanario Universidad conducted a poll on the leading presidential candidates of Costa Rica. Three of these candidates received more than 10 percent support in the polls: Antonio Alvarez Desanti, Juan Diego Castro and Rodolfo Piza.
We will analyze the candidates’ proposals based on the political programs they have available on the Supreme Elections Tribunal (TSE) website as well as their campaign websites. Priority is given to analyze what is publicly available and the candidates’ positions or proposals on climate governance.
How do these candidates propose to give continuity to the Costa Rican climate agenda?
Juan Diego Castro – Lawyer and National Integration Party Candidate
Juan Diego Castro has presented his candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic of Costa Rica and his proposal for government has appeared in several publications. Castro’s proposal is derived from different sources such as his campaign website, Government Plan, and information shared by the TSE.
The National Integration Party (PIN) proposes through its candidate a government of reconstruction, seeking to give more importance to spirituality as individuals and as a collective, to achieve sustainable human development. From different posts on his website as well as his Government Plan, we can begin to get an idea of what Castro proposes on the subject of environmental development. Unfortunately, “climate change,” “mitigation,” “adaptation,” “decarbonization,” and “carbon neutrality” do not appear in Castro’s Government Plan.
Why is there no mention of climate change?
This is clearly the main question that citizens should ask the candidate. We must consider that climate change is one of the main foreign policy issues of this country. National projects, such as carbon neutrality, have been in practice and discussion in the country for many years. Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing humanity and must be included in development models. Climate governance cannot be absent.
Government plan and environmental sustainability
Castro’s campaign site and Government Plan do not appear to directly address climate change, but aspects related to environmental sustainability are included. It is important to analyze them and explore what relationship they could have with the climate effort that Costa Rica has been developing.
The Government Program of Castro mentions that it is open to criticism and discussion. In this spirit, we carry out the following analysis to begin a dialogue that we hope Costa Ricans have with Castro and other candidates about their proposals.
As noted in the Castro Government Program: “The ideas presented in this document are open to criticism and discussion. They are also open to comments and observations for improvement.”
According to Castro, the urgent issues are:
Waiting lists for the Costa Rican Social Security Fund
Training for employment
The strategic themes are:
The structure and functioning of the state
Competitiveness and economic growth
The justice system and security
“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.
“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.
“A long-term vision will be established in National Planning and the methods for the preparation and approval of national budgets will be changed to consolidate a true public expenditure policy for development.”
This is an issue of great relevance for climate governance given that the Paris Agreement requires countries to develop a long-term development strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These documents must be presented to the international community to complement the provisions established by the Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, which are the cyclical goals that countries adjust to meet climate goals. Unfortunately, there are no references in the proposal to any specific climate or environmental aspect, beyond identifying it as a sector, so what is stated is abstract. This is an important issue given that currently only six countries have submitted their long-term strategies, with Costa Rica’s waiting to be developed.
The other source of documentary information that we found to understand Castro’s climate ideology, were the direct statements from the TSE, where each candidate presents the main points proposed in their respective plans. On the issue of environment and energy, specific actions of Castro’s environmental agenda are laid out. Natural capital, green taxes, the improvement and reinforcement of environmental policies (urban planning, waste, water resources, and unsustainable performance of productive activities), the alignment of environmental policies with businesses and industries and the strengthening of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are all mentioned here. It is also said that the planning of the country will be revised to “consolidate sustainable economic and social development, which fosters business growth, employment and sustainable use of the natural wealth of the country.”
In addition, in the transportation infrastructure section of Castro’s Government Program, there is a proposal to develop a rapid train in Costa Rica’s Central Valley through the public works concession. It would be an electric train for public transport in the greater metropolitan area of San Jose, which would reduce travel times of users and road congestion. This proposal is compatible with Costa Rica’s NDC, which calls for an “inter-city electric train.”
The government program sets forth a vision of environmental sustainability as a necessary condition for development. The use of the word natural capital is important, since it expresses a vision of nature from the economic perspective and values its existence in terms of the ecosystem services it provides to society.
“Priority will be given to existing public policies that promote the country’s strong sustainability, consistent with the management of natural capital to promote economic growth and sustainable development. This is to optimize productive resources and environmental services with a functional institutional environment.” CastroGovernment 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
“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.
The continuity and aspiration of climate governance at the national level is essential.
It is necessary to establish a dialogue about what candidates propose in their programs and the key tools of climate governance, such as the NDC. In this way we can guarantee progress, transparency and continuous aspiration in the climate action that the Paris Agreement asks of us. This is a task that all citizens must undertake in exercising their right and democratic power.
Costa Rica is about to enter the final phase of its electoral process and there is a diverse group of candidates seeking its citizens’ support. On the issue of climate, the continuity of effort at governance and the increased desire for action are key to achieving the goals we set for ourselves. It is a good time to ask the candidates if their government plans and thinking reflect what is needed to confront climate change and change our development model to one that fully embraces sustainability.
The climate issue has evolved over the 23 years since the creation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC was the first collective response to combat climate change, which has become a global effort to redefine a viable path for the development of human society and ensure survival in the face of climate change. It is one of the main elements that defined the development of countries under the Paris Agreement.
While this may sound dramatic, climate change affects entire ecosystems and poses a particular threat to our society. Costa Rica, although a small emitter of greenhouse gases, is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. We must look for how to adapt to these negative effects that the current development model has generated.
Also, the IPCC points out in a special regional report that the generation of hydroelectric energy and the production of grains and livestock will be especially vulnerable to changes in water supply, particularly in Costa Rica. The changes that the country will begin to experience are well studied and, consequently, a National Adaptation Plan has been designed. To put the dimension of the challenge in context, the National Climate Change Strategyillustrates how it will affect two basic elements, temperature and precipitation:
From a financial perspective, the impacts of extreme hydrometeorological events caused by climate change will generate significant economic damage. In the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of Costa Rica, it was estimated that the country has already suffered a total of 1.13 billion dollars in damage from 2005 to 2011. The sectors that have been most affected by climate change are:
Electricity generation infrastructure
It is important to remember these four sectors in analyzing what the electoral candidates in Costa Rica are proposing regarding the climate issue, since we already know what has affected us and how much this damage cost us. In a country where funding is scarce, climate change cannot be left out of the candidates’ government plans, especially because 78.2 percent of the losses mentioned above are public works and will affect the national budget.
The adverse effects of climate change are not fair and will affect the most vulnerable populations of the country. Women, children and people living in poverty are all disproportionately at risk. The NDC of Costa Rica also tells us an estimate of the damages we can have. It is necessary to emphasize that the development or government of Costa Rica cannot be planned without the climate issue.
Are we going to adapt?
In terms of adaptation, the country has defined objectives that should help us reduce the damage and become more resilient in the face of the adverse effects of climate change. According to the NDC, the adaptation actions of Costa Rica for the period 2016-2030 are defined so that the government plans of the electoral candidates should also reflect a way to attain them. The adaptation actions that we are going to carry out are the following:
Develop a National Adaptation Plan
Disaster risk reduction
Adaptation based on ecosystems
Planning and local management for territorial adaptation
Adaptation of public infrastructure
Environmental health as an adaptation measure
Capacity development, technology transfer and financing for adaptation
The NDC of Costa Rica gives a brushstroke about each point enunciated but its execution and effectiveness depends on the government in power. It is imperative to know how these goals are going to be achieved or if they will be discarded. An important threat to these goals is that they are not a structural part of the government plan and that their value is only on paper.
We can count on the international community to ask Costa Rica about these points when it has formally declared them, but this does not reduce vulnerability or damage in the end. The only thing that does this is real and effective climate action. With this issue, as with others, it is important to seek coherence and continuity of climate governance goals in the government proposals of the electoral candidates.
Climate governance continues
In ratifying the Paris Agreement, Costa Rica was required to participate in an interdependent, transparent, monitorable process with a common objective: to limit the global temperature increase from 1.5℃ to 2℃. This process has certain tools and a defined timeline for its success, so a country cannot get out of sync without affecting others and being asked to do so.
One of the first public and tangible commitments of Costa Rica in this process was to present its NDC. In this commitment, the country establishes the goals that will be implemented to comply with global climate objectives at the national level. Our main commitment is to decarbonize the economy (one step beyond just carbon neutrality) and become more resilient in the face of the adverse effects of climate change.
“Costa Rica will center its climate change actions on increasing society’s resilience to the impact of climate change and strengthening the country’s capacity for a low emission development in the long term. Costa Rica will strengthen its climate action with efforts to reduce emissions, following scientific suggestions of what would be necessary to avoid the worst effect of climate change. Climate action will be based on balanced efforts of adaptation to ensure that communities, especially vulnerable communities, become resilient to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.” Costa Rica NDC
The next big step we must take in this process is to declare a long-term development strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These commitments must be accompanied by a transparent system that monitors the country’s actions. This is where the actions that a candidate proposes for the next four years are relevant, given that if there is no continuity in the goals and process, we can miss our commitments and affect the common effort.
To ensure countries’ climate actions are being fulfilled, a system has been designed: the “Global Stocktake.” Beginning in 2023, an evaluation will occur every 5 years and review the progress of each country towards the objectives it has declared and the common goal. In other words, if the future governors do not incorporate the logic of the Paris Agreement into their government plans, our development model, actions and projects that we develop will not help with the common goal, breaking with the effort of so many years. Climate action must be present both in the electoral discussions and in the political implementation of the new government.