Wake up and smell the (carbon neutral) coffee and other positive climate action from Latin America

While climate negotiations drag on from year to year, some countries in Latin America are not waiting to start cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.  Two countries setting a positive example for the international community are Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. In 2008, Costa Rica voluntarily set itself the goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2021 and has since been developing strategies to cut emissions. This week in Doha, Qatar, the Dominican Republic announced it would cut its emissions by 25% below 2010 levels by 2030. These nations are showing that when there’s a will there is most definitely a way forward on climate change.

Since Costa Rica declared the goal of carbon neutrality one looming question was exactly how it would fulfill this ambitious goal.  In the lead up to the 18th round of the UN climate negotiations in Doha, Qatar a clearer picture emerged of the Costa Rican government’s plans for carbon neutrality.  In particular, the nation is focusing on three key sectors: agriculture, solid waste and transportation for which it is developing Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) – financing instruments for emissions mitigation in key sectors. To access international climate financing through a NAMA, countries must define clear steps for reducing emissions and adapting to climate change.

To address agricultural emissions Costa Rica is targeting key subsectors ranging from small family farms to major cultivation of export crops like bananas and coffee. For its nearly 100,000 family farms, Costa Rica will promote organic agriculture, agroforestry and biodigesters.  Banana plantations are already reducing the use of climate change-inducing nitrogen fertilizers.  Meanwhile, sugar farms can generate energy from agricultural residue.  Costa Rica has also committed to designing and implementing the first NAMA for the coffee sector. In fact, participants at the Doha climate talks enjoyed the world’s first carbon neutral coffee, courtesy of the Costa Rican delegation and a local coffee co-op.

Costa Rica will also seek to reduce 480,000 tons of CO2 emissions from solid waste through a second NAMA. If the country secures the necessary financing, participating municipalities will work with the national electricity company to capture and convert waste emissions into energy. This initiative would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions it would also help cut the amount of solid waste that ends up in landfills by half.

 Costa Rica’s biggest challenge remains tackling its largest single source of emissions in the country:  fossil fuel use for cars and other automobiles. While Costa Rica has made some progress on switching to cleaner taxis and buses, there’s still a lot of ground that must be covered. In particular the approach to transportation sector must go beyond merely switching to cleaner fuels, hybrids and electric vehicles. It must also take on broader reforms that address vehicles miles travelled and tackle its complex and inefficient public transport system. A more comprehensive approach to transportation will lead to emission reduction solutions that are also socially inclusive and improve the quality of life of Costa Ricans by reducing congestion, cleaning up the air, and improving public health.

Costa Rica also has a strong history of reforestation, which helps offset carbon emissions. Based on a recent analysis of land use change since 1987, increased forest cover may capture up to 15,900 Gg of CO2.Yet while the nation’s efforts on reforestation are certainly laudable, it will be important for Costa Rica not to shy away from cleaning up its transportation sector even if it can mitigate a portion of these emissions through increased forest cover.

The Dominican Republic, a small island nation that is experiencing ever stronger hurricanes, is already on the front lines of climate change. As the delegate from the Dominican Republic noted at Doha, “what we must most fear when facing climate change are the impacts we are all already suffering, with devastating consequences. Ambitious collective action, in which we all participate to the level of our abilities, can help us avoid such impacts…National circumstances are opportunities for action, and not excuses no to act. More action generates greater cooperation.” In announcing his country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 25% below 2010 levels by 2030, Omar Ramírez Tejada, the head of the Dominican delegation called on nations to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

Small nations like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic are leading by example. Coming out of Doha we need more governments to join them and clearly show their willingness to implement policies that support clean energy and transportation solutions, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. One place to start is by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies.  We also need to start seeing developed nations step up to the plate and live up to their own commitments – not just on decreasing emissions, but also on climate finance mechanisms. Doing so will help Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and other willing developing nations take the actions needed to fight climate change and adapt to the “new normal” of global warming.  It’ll be a tough job, but it has to be done. Fortunately delegates will have some good strong carbon neutral coffee to keep them going as the Doha talks wrap up.

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