Saturday, July 9, 2016

Costa Rica – No More Fossils Fuels?

The charming and charismatic Monica Araya advocates for building a fossil-fuel-free society. She argues that this lofty goal is achievable in Costa Rica. Why is she so optimistic about Costa Rica's chances?

Excellent record on clean energy
Nearly 100% of Costa Rica’s electrical energy comes from renewables, a combination of hydro, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal. Last year, the country’s electrical industry used only renewables for 299 of 365 days. That’s the good news. The bad news is that 70% of Costa Rica's energy is still based on oil, due to consumption in the transportation sector. Removing that dependence cannot be done by incremental steps, says Araya; it requires deep, transformative change. Impossible? Not according to Araya, because of her second argument for optimism.

Small country with big ideas
Costa Rica is a small country with big ideas and has a track record of bold unconventional decisions. In 1948, coming out of a brutal civil war, in a region still suffering much discord, Costa Rica took a decision to abolish the army, and enshrined that decision in the 1949 constitution. Instead, the money that would have gone to the military is spent on free education and free health care. In the 50s, they invested heavily in hydro, in the 70s in national parks and by the 90s created a system of payments for ecosystem preservation.  The result is a nation that does medium well on GDP/capital at $11,000, but is a positive outlier on the Social Progress Index.

Current transportation system a mess

Her last argument is that the time is right. Costa Rica’s road system is overloaded and commuting is a disaster. Thus, it's an opportune time to shift investment from roads to public transportation, which would address both the transportation and the energy issues.

So, the goal is extremely ambitious, but the country is a fertile ground for such a transformation. Araya's strategy is to get people in the country to own this goal. The TED Summit program describes her as the founder and director of Costa Rica Limpia,  a citizen group that promotes clean energy and transportation and resilience for climate change, and of Nivela, an international thought leadership group that advances narratives on development and climate responsibility. Holding a Ph.D. in environmental management from Yale, and named as 'Personality of the Future' by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, she is indeed an impressive person.. I for one will be interested to see whether she and other Costa Ricans are able to muster the required support.

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