A local environmental group estimates that 611 additional tons of carbon dioxide are being released each day in the Central Valley, due to a change in traffic regulations that went into effect early last month (TT, June 19).
On June 5, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) removed a restriction on the circulation of vehicles in San José, thereby allowing cars to drive into the city seven days a week (as opposed to six days under the restriction). The restriction was based on the last digit of a car’s license plate.
The added traffic congestion causes a delay of approximately 13 minutes for those traveling through the city, according to Costa Rica Neutral. The organization said that in the month since the restrictions were lifted these delays, combined with more cars on the road, have resulted in an additional 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. The group said that in order to offset the damage, some 10,000 trees would need to be planted and allowed to grow for 15 to 30 years.
“Clearly, the government needs to restore the law,” said Carolina Rodríguez, executive director of Costa Rica Neutral.
“The burning of fossil fuels is having an effect on our environment. The most obvious outcome of this is climate change. … The restoration of the vehicle restriction is just one way we can make a difference.”
The Traffic Police and the Public Works and Transport Ministry expressed an interest in restoring the law in some form, but the ministries were awaiting release of the full ruling from the Sala IV.
That ruling, made public on Tuesday, cited the chamber’s agreement with plaintiff Guillén Elizondo that the restriction violated “fundamental rights (of) freedom of movement on public roads.”
The Constitutional Chamber agreed that the state has the right to restrict travel for the public good. But one of Costa Rica’s initial reasons to implement the restriction was to help reduce fuel consumption. That reason lost relevance with a subsequent drop in fuel prices.
“The elements supporting the reasonableness and proportionality of the measure are missing or have changed in severity,” read the court ruling. “…Thus, it is appropriate to declare the act unconstitutional by this breach and remove its (restrictions).”
Even though Rodríguez said she will push for reinstatement of the law in some form, she stressed that Costa Ricans shouldn’t wait for congressional action to take a stand for the environment.
“It’s important that people know that a response to climate change is not just the responsibility of businesses or the government,” she said. “It’s also a responsibility that we have as citizens. …We can’t just wait around for something to happen. …We have to do the things we can do to make a difference.”