In President Oscar Arias’ administration, there is no question as to whether global warming is real or a just theory.Under the banner “Peace with Nature,” the President and 1987 Nobel Peace Prize winner has begun to lay out his administration’s environmental policy, much of which revolves around reducing – both in Costa Rica and around the world – the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
The plan calls for more alternative energy sources, better energy efficiency and increased production and use of biofuels such as biodiesel and ethanol, among other proposals.
While patting this country on the back for environmental standards that exceed many other nations around the world – particularly in energy production, of which close to 90% is with renewable resources – administration officials said Costa Rica must be an example for the world.
However, Juan Figuerola, a member of the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON), criticized the Arias administration for presenting proposals that do little to attack the root cause of pollution and global warming – unsustainable levels of personal consumption.
“It is evident that we are using resources much faster than nature produces,” Figuerola said. “They are not attacking the root of the problem…an individualistic society where the status is to have one car per person, and it is a sign of low status not to have a car, or to ride a bike or use public transportation.”
An Inconvenient Truth
On Oct. 26, Arias, accompanied by Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles, Foreign Minister Bruno Stagno and others, attended the latest in a series of screenings in San José of the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” which highlights former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore’s efforts to raise
awareness about the threat of global warming.
The burning of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum releases chemicals that thicken the earth’s atmosphere, trapping sunlight and increasing the temperature of the earth’s ocean and air, researchers say. The results, many conclude, are already being seen in unusual and extreme weather, increasingly strong hurricanes and the disappearance of animal species. In addition, some scientists say the earth’s polar ice caps are melting, and could raise the planet’s ocean levels to the point of flooding many major cities. All this is depicted in “An Inconvenient Truth.”
“We are in the waiting room of an almost apocalyptic dynamic and if we don’t make a radical change in the management of our resources and in the reduction of the gases that produce the greenhouse effect, it will truly be a terrible truth,” Stagno said before the film began.
Stagno criticized the United States, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, for not adhering to the Kyoto Protocol, a global treaty aimed at reducing the emission of these gases. The treaty went into effect early last year (TT, Feb. 25, 2005).
Stagno also highlighted Costa Rica’s leadership, along with Papua New Guinea, in the Coalition for Rain Forest Nations, a group of 15 countries that seeks to encourage nations to preserve their rain forests with financial incentives.
According to Arias, the Kyoto Protocol rewards countries for reforestation, but does not provide incentives for protecting already existing forests. The coalition seeks to fill that void, he said.
Arias discussed the proposal with Gore and former U.S. President Bill Clinton in September when he was at the United Nations in New York City (TT, Sept. 29). According to Environment and Energy Minister Dobles, the coalition is just beginning its work.
Facing the Issues at Home
Later that evening,Arias met with Dobles, Stagno and others who work with the environment to discuss his administration’s plans for the environment, many of which are just beginning to be implemented or are still in the preliminary phase.
Taking a break from the meeting, Minister Dobles explained the administration’s domestic environmental policy, splitting it into four areas: prioritizing renewable energy, reducing national energy consumption, overhauling Costa Rica’s transportation sector and introducing new, more environmentally friendly technology.
In meeting Costa Rica’s growing demand for energy – now increasing between 5.5-6% a year – Dobles said this administration would look to more diversified sources, such as wind power projects and biomass plants, which use agricultural waste to produce electricity.
The minister explained he plans to increase biomass production from the current 6 megawatts (MW) of installed capacity to 80-100 MW.
Earlier that same day, he and other administration officials announced the creation of a Biofuel Commission, a board made up of representatives from the public and private sectors whose goal is to propose ways to create a biofuel industry in Costa Rica.
Dobles told The Tico Times this week that Costa Rica is the world’s most cost-effective producer of African palm oil, a prime material for making biodiesel. In addition, with its more than 7,000 sugarcane farmers, Costa Rica also has extensive experience growing another crop used to make ethanol.
Besides reducing Costa Rica’s dependence on foreign oil, biofuel production could help some of Costa Rica’s poorer regions, the minister said.
“The areas most apt for agricultural production of fuel are economically depressed areas… the Southern Zone, the Northern Zone, the Caribbean,”Dobles said. “It is going to have a very strong impact in those places.”
The Biofuel Commission was sworn in Oct. 26 at Consorcio Operativo del Este, a consortium that runs the bus lines to Zapote, Sabanilla and Tres Ríos, all east of San José center. The company recently introduced a 30% mix of biodiesel into its fleet (TT, Sept. 8) and plans to increase that amount to 50% in December, Dobles said.
For FECON’s Figuerola, the production of biodiesel and ethanol makes sense only if it is coupled with a cultural shift away from dependence on cars. Public transportation, bicycles and alternate forms of transportation must be more heavily promoted, he stressed.
“There are more than 800,000 automobiles in Costa Rica, and this is increasing. An average of 50,000 new vehicles enter the country every year,” Figuerola said. Petroleum is only part of the problem, he continued, pointing out that car tires and batteries are also major “ecological problems.”
Other areas of the administration’s plans for the environment, such as overhauling other aspects of Costa Rica’s transportation, increasing energy efficiency throughout the country and introducing new technologies to combat global warming were left vague, as Dobles said the administration is still researching and planning ways to meet these goals.