The Arias administration is declaring “Peace with Nature” – a concrete initiative to help the country protect its natural resources and promote international cooperation on such issues as global warming and biodiversity preservation.
Though some environmentalists are already calling the plan window dressing, promoters insist it will eventually bear serious results, both inside the country and out.
The program, supported by a group of the country’s foremost environmental and sustainable development experts, is a logical next step in Costa Rica’s development, according to Environment and Energy Minister Roberto Dobles.
“Just as Costa Rica declared peace with the world years ago, now we want to declare peace with nature. This declaration will allow us to bring the message to the entire world, and to lead in fighting global climate change,” he said. The emphasis will be on sustainable development in a country that is seeing rapid growth along its coastlines and popular tourist destinations.
The agenda consists of more than just flowery catch phrases, according to Pedro Léon, coordinator for the initiative.
León said 12 commissions were formed early in Arias’ administration, each assigned to a different environmental issue, ranging from energy, forests, water to global warming, waste removal and marine resources.
“What we’ve done is design a new process that will allow a group of experts in environmental fields to function like a think tank. But the emphasis will be on proposing specific actions, not further studies,” he said.
The commissions were purposely kept small – eight to 10 experts apiece, he said, and designed to promote action, not endless tramité and beaurocratic indecision.
León said these exclusive groups consist of the foremost experts in each field, including well-known university biologists, three former Environment and Energy Ministers, the director of the National Biodiversity Institute (INBio) and many others.
“This is a national and international crusade to protect our environment, to turn back global warming, promote sustainability and renewable energy,” he said.
Last year when Arias took office, environmental groups greeted his administration with wariness, saying he would likely be more pro-business than pro-environment.
Concerns blossomed into reality, they said, when Arias stated intentions to pursue possible oil exploration and open-pit mining in the country, practices banned by Arias’ predecessor President Abel Pacheco, dubbed by some as the “Environmental President” (TT,May 19, 2006).
Environmentalists also criticized Arias’ choice of Roberto Dobles as Environment Minister. They said Dobles, a former executive president of the National Oil Refinery (RECOPE) and of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), had little experience in environmental issues and would lean heavily toward protecting business interests.
The verdict is still out, but in recent months, Arias and his ministers have made environmental issues top agenda items.
Last month, Arias announced his country’s intention to be carbon neutral by 2021, and the first in the world to reach the green benchmark (TT, June 15).
The week prior, on World Environment Day, Environment Minister Dobles announced a series of concrete actions intended to balance emissions internally, including a nationwide tree-planting campaign, promotion of hybrid vehicles and emphasis on renewable energy sources (TT June 8).
Mauricio Alvarez, of the Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON), an umbrella organization of more that 30 environmental groups from around the country, is skeptical of the administration’s recent shift in attitude and the Peace with Nature program, scheduled to be officially launched at the National Theater tonight.
“There is nothing new with this initiative. (Ex-President) Pacheco promoted the concept of environmental guarantees, a moratorium on mineral and oil exploration – none of these concrete actions are a part of Arias’ plan,” Alvarez said.
He added the Arias administration’s environmental policies have been pockmarked by flip-flopping and indecision, and predicted that the new program will accomplish little other than “improving the government’s image.”
“One day we talk about climate change and human rights, the next day we are striking a business deal with Communist China. It’s schizophrenic. It’s all for show,” he said.
But according to León, emphasis on the environment is not new for President Arias.
“These ideas and the promotion of sustainable development have always been an integral part of his vision. Peace with Nature is the first step in making it happen,” he said.