Towards Low-emission Development

Consultation, dialogue and wide participation are essential to building an inclusive green economy.
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Using a per capita emissions measure … puts the responsibility for climate action with all Costa Ricans and not just the state or private enterprises.
The National Programme for Carbon Neutrality has been able, since its inception in 2010, to certify over 50 businesses as carbon neutral.

Historically, Costa Rica has been proactive in climate change negotiations. It announced in 2007 its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2021. And in September last year, in its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), the country proposed ambitious emissions reductions and climate action through the year 2050, setting the country on a path towards an effective de-carbonization of its economy.

Achieving such a transition to low-emissions development will require Costa Rica to develop new policy instruments and legal frameworks. Some of these instruments are already in place: Costa Rica’s VII National Energy Plan, for instance, places emphasis on achieving greater energy efficiency, and will be instrumental in helping the country move towards low-emissions development, by helping channel public and private investment into more efficient public and private transport. While greater energy efficiency in homes will lead to a contraction in demand for electricity over the long term, the increase in the consumption of electricity in transport will offset this. Hybrid or electric buses and a planned interurban electric train will help improve the quality of public transport while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel imports, which cost the country 4 per cent of its GDP in 2014.

Reaching carbon neutrality also means going beyond offsetting emissions through payment for results and environmental services to a progressive policy of emissions reductions to help put the biggest-emitting sectors onto a steady path towards de-carbonization. Since the 1990s innovative fiscal policies and market instruments have generated cross-subsidies between energy and forestry. A consumption tax on fossil fuels produced revenues for the management of forested lands through environmental service payments. This successful programme has increased forest cover to over 52 per cent of the country’s national territory.

The National Programme for Carbon Neutrality has been able, since its inception in 2010, to certify over 50 businesses as carbon neutral. The programme has generated keen interest from the private sector and continues to attract businesses that seek to reduce or offset their carbon footprint. It is complemented by several National Appropriate Mitigation Actions in such productive sectors as coffee and livestock, and there are plans to incorporate others like urban transport and waste management. Many innovative initiatives are taking place, particularly in agriculture and industry, to explore ways to convert farm residues and waste into sources of renewable energy, and replace fossil fuels with biomass-fueled boilers and biofuels. The proposed INDC will build on these early actions and develop new fiscal policies and instruments that will help the current programmes of payments for results evolve into a more sophisticated financial architecture to support low-emission development initiatives in the coming decades.

But perhaps the most original aspect of Costa Rica’s INDC was the fact that it was formulated through a complex process of consultation, dialogue and proposal development. The Ministry of Environment, Energy and Sea (MINAE, to use its Spanish acronym) organized six thematic and sectoral workshops with wide participation from the energy, forestry, agriculture, transport, and solid waste sectors. The workshops, which brought together over 450 participants, enabled the capturing of ideas and technical criteria from both public and private sectors to define the long-term emissions reduction goals. After an internal discussion in MINAE, a draft of this National Contribution went before an international panel of peer reviewers from international organizations and NGOs specializing in climate change issues. Costa Rica was one of very few countries to submit its INDC for such a review prior to its formal presentation.

Costa Rica focused its commitment on “climate action” to increase society’s resilience to the impact of climate change and strengthen the country’s capacity for long-term, low-emissions development that mitigates greenhouse gases in line with what science dictates. Climate action will support adaptation efforts to ensure that communities, especially the most vulnerable, are resilient to the inevitable impacts of global warming. Costa Rica is accepting the challenge to reduce emissions at source rather than compensate for them by increasing forest cover. This mainly means accepting the challenge of the increase in emissions from transport and providing clean solutions such as public transport and alternative mobility.

Climate action also requires different institutional developments for transparency and accountability. Climate data, statistics and reports must be openly available to social and economic players, leaving room for innovation in information technology products. Other institutional developments that have been proposed aim to strengthen INDC interagency coordination by establishing a Citizens Advisory Council and specific monitoring efforts among key agencies. This approach seeks to overcome breakdowns in public policy as a result of electoral cycles by enabling the country to agree long-term goals.

Our approach to defining the INDC provides a vivid example of how a country can recognize and manage the limits of quantitative-deductive approaches to formulating climate policy and take a more qualitative approach through developing and assessing socio-economic scenarios. Costa Rica’s INDC also sets an absolute maximum of emissions for 2030, which we consider better practice than using baselines or business-as-usual scenarios, which are intrinsically variable.

Another original methodology was to take emissions per capita as the basic metric, establishing targets of net emissions per capita of two tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030 and one ton by 2050. This ambitious universal goal is significant for its symbolic value, as it links each citizen to the country’s targets. As I indicated during COP 21, decarbonizing the economy necessarily involves collective decisions, but mainly arises from individual ones on modifying and adjusting consumption patterns to meet the new demands of the international community. This approach also allows a clear and transparent convergence of the climate change and sustainable development agendas.

Using a per capita emissions measure, as I proposed to the UNFCCC, puts the responsibility for climate action with all Costa Ricans and not just the state or private enterprises (which already have a carbon-neutrality programme). The task is to define how that responsibility is exercised. What tools should be developed to allow citizens to know precisely their climate footprint? Can they also have adequate reduction and compensation mechanisms? The same applies to public institutions and private organizations.

The design and preparation of Costa Rica’s INDC denotes how it became an instrument of national development policy in the transition towards a low-emission economy, rather than an instrument of environmental diplomacy or an agenda for international cooperation.