Costa Rica Takes on «The Carbon Neutrality Challenge»


Costa Rica may be best known for its prolific biodiversity and legendary surfing, but it soon hopes to gain an additional distinction: the world’s first carbon neutral country. On May 16, the Center for the Environment hosted a daylong workshop with key members of Costa Rica’s Climate Change Working Group to discuss the challenges and best practices toward achieving the country’s ambitious goal. After the workshop, Energy and Environment Minister Roberto Dobles delivered a public lecture on “The Carbon Neutrality Challenge,” in which he highlighted the specifics of Costa Rica’s climate change strategies.

The participants from Costa Rica included the Minister and Vice Minister of Environment and Energy, along with representatives from the National Forest Financing Fund (FONAFIFO), and various utility sectors. Also present were several members of the Natural Resource Defenses Council, who have organized an “Energy Strategy Tour” with top American universities.

Throughout the day, the delegation met with several HUCE faculty associates, fellows, and graduate students from numerous disciplines across the university. Center Director Dan Schrag said the workshop presented “an unusual opportunity for Harvard faculty and students to contribute their insights into energy technology and policy.”

The Costa Rican government has undertaken a series of proactive initiatives to attain a net zero of emissions, starting with the establishment of a National Climate Change Strategy. The strategy proposes equal measures of adaptation and mitigation, including a reduction in emissions across all major sectors of the economy, as well as the enhancement of carbon sinks via reforestation and avoided deforestation.

One of many recommendations to emerge from the workshop is that Costa Rica must define “carbon neutrality” more clearly, along with the accounting methodology it will employ to measure its emissions, before it can devise and implement policy. It was also suggested that Costa Rica must develop an effective biofuels strategy, and perform a close examination of its entire transportation sector. Tourism—in particular, ironically, ecotourism—is a burgeoning industry, making jet fuel consumption an essential part of the emissions equation. Creating economic incentives to promote the adoption of cleaner technologies and encourage the use of public transportation was also discussed.

Since Costa Rica’s announcement in early 2007 that it aimed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021, two other nations have followed suit. Norway and New Zealand are both planning to become carbon neutral by 2050, and many other nations are working to drastically reduce emissions on a timetable that is less formally defined. Therefore, as Schrag pointed out, “The Carbon Neutrality Challenge” is not just a challenge, but also an interesting experiment: “if Costa Rica can’t get there, what are the rest of us going to do?”

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Date / Fecha: 05/11/13

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