Costa Rica 2019 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

Having played a leading role in reducing one of the world's highest per capita deforestation rates, MINAE is now focused on implementing its decarbonization plan.

Carlos Manuel Rodríguez
Carlos Manuel Rodríguez is currently serving his second term as the Minister of Environment and Energy and, over the years, he has been a pioneer in the development of the payment for ecosystem services (PES). Rodríguez understands the political preconditions necessary for successful implementation of PES systems that benefit local communities. As the Minister of Environment, he managed to curb logging and deforestation trends to achieve a national net growth of forested areas through natural regeneration and reforestation. He is internationally recognized for promoting the concept of identifying and capturing the economic value of standing forests within protected areas, private forests, and Indian reserves.

What are the core priorities for the Ministry of Environment

and Energy (MINAE) in the coming years?
The greatest challenge for Costa Rica is the current model for food, energy, and water production and the consumption of goods and services. At present, we consume natural resources faster than nature's capacity for recovery. The challenge, then, is to change the economic model, so that we ultimately have a sustainable model where we do not generate an environmental deficit, but through which we can capitalize on mechanisms and technologies that do not generate environmental damage. In that context, we have 10 issues to address, and this administration will focus on creating the institutional conditions to transition toward a green, or circular, economic model, where the good and the bad that we do with nature is reflected. Political decisions are based on the best economic information available. This change has to be incremental, and the effects will be seen in the future. Around 20-30 years ago, we had one of the highest deforestation rates per capita in the world, and now we have managed to completely halt it, while increasing reforestation rates.

How will this administration push for more competitive energy use?

Costa Rica is in a peculiar situation. Producing energy from fossil fuels should be more expensive than renewable energy, but currently the final price for consumers is quite high. The problem lies in the inefficiency and lack of planning throughout the years, resulting in associated costs being higher than expected. We need to accurately forecast future needs in order to plan and build accordingly to satisfy demand. We have built considerable electrical infrastructure that surpasses demand, almost doubling it.

What should be the objective of RECOPE, or the new company that replaces it, in the decarbonization of the country?

RECOPE has played an important role in the strategic import, refining, and distribution of fuel. In line with the decarbonization plan, commitments that Costa Rica has made to its citizens to improve air quality, and the international commitments related to the climate change convention, we have determined that RECOPE must transition to a model where fossil fuels are not part of the future. Within the decarbonization plan, we see a period of two to three decades before the complete shift toward alternative fuels.

The current legal framework discourages consumers from buying electric cars. What further regulations could boost the purchasing of alternative vehicles?

We have both a carbonized economy and a fiscal system. A large amount of the fiscal income depends on activities that generate carbon, such as the tax on fuels and vehicles. Therefore, we need to change the economy and the fiscal policy toward the transition. We want zero-emission vehicles that include electric and hydrogen cars. Costa Rica has a strong electrical grid and high-quality infrastructure, so it makes sense to electrify the transport sector. Another reason is that the technology is becoming cheaper and more accessible. We need to change the transport paradigm, as our economy is based on the individual use and purchase of vehicles; however, in the future, there will be options to help people choose alternative means of transport. We want cities to be more sustainable and greener.

What environmental policy lessons could other countries learn from Costa Rica?

We have learned that protecting nature is not a cost, but an investment that translates into many benefits. We have learned over the years that restoring degraded areas makes real economic sense. We have generated numerous economic activities from this, such as ecotourism. 40 years ago, as visionaries spoke about creating the first national parks, many argued that it made no sense, just as today some dispute decarbonization, arguing that jobs will disappear; however, in reality jobs will shift to a different economic activity that could be more lucrative. All players and political parties must be involved to achieve long-term results. We are investing in a better tomorrow for future generations. This is a complex task that needs to be tackled in order to see results within a few decades.