Is the sun rising for a Green Deal in Costa Rica?

If you are following European and US American politics, you have probably come across the term “Green Deal” in one version or the other. With all the talk about it, you might have begun to wonder what it is about a (Global) Green (New) Deal that has everybody up and about. In short, the Green Deal is an economic approach to recover from crises with a green and sustainable touch, focusing on renewable energy, resource efficiency and social cohesion.

Nowadays, the Green Deal is considered a backbone for economic recovery from the devastating impacts of the coronavirus pandemic which exposed the highly interconnected nature of our world, and the impacts of human activities on carefully balanced ecosystems. It can be much more than that though, it can help to tackle from the three-fold crisis we are currently facing: health crisis accelerated by the pandemic, financial crisis started by the pandemic and stop-still of economic activity, and the climate crisis and more frequent extreme weather events. 

A Green Deal needs to thus embrace and strengthen resilience: strengthening localised energy and food production to reduce impacts from supply chain disruptions, creating social safety nets, focusing on job creation and gender equality while also embracing global solidarity and transparent multilateralism on all governance levels. 

Wind turbines in Costa Rica

Courtesy of World Future Council

Many if not all of the above mentioned resilience criteria for a Green Deal can be at least partly supported by increasing the share of renewable energy in a country’s energy mix. What better candidate to implement an ambitious Green Deal than Costa Rica? 

Sustainability Champion Costa Rica

Costa Rica is already considered a champion of forest conservation, biodiversity protection and renewable electricity - reaching 100% renewable electricity generation almost throughout the whole year! Thus, the time is ripe for Costa Rica to implement an ambitions Green Deal based upon its Decarbonization Plan and 100% Renewable Energy. Such a Green Deal can put the country on track to a resilient and sustainable future, a fair future, and a solidary future. The country can become a lighthouse, demonstrating that reducing carbon dioxide emissions to zero is a viable option and that low-carbon technologies are profitable.

Etienne Delorieux on Unsplash

More than that though, a Green Deal can support the Central American country in preparing for future crises and the impacts of global warming: extreme weather events threatening energy infrastructure and international and domestic food supply chains. Heatwaves, droughts, heavy rainfalls and floods will have severe impact on the country’s agriculture and energy sector, because of its reliance on hydropower for electricity. Already rising inequalities between urban and rural population, so-called skilled and un-skilled workers among people will be intensified and pose a risk to future economic growth. 

A resilient and sustainable future

But it is not too late to create a resilient and sustainable future for Costa Rica by going 100% renewable energy. Decentralising and diversifying Costa Rica’s energy system could be the backbone in doing so. Costa Rica has around 203GW of utility-scale solar energy, not even counting high roof-top solar energy potential around the capital San José. Complemented by wind energy, Costa Rica can reduce its reliance on weather prone hydropower. In addition, wind and solar energy can be distributed decentral, reducing needed infrastructure capacity and thus increasing resilience to extreme weather events and reducing maintaining costs. Storage requirements can also be kept as low as 30% of generation capacity, with exception of the north-western region of Guanacaste which has the highest renewable energy potential.

By deploying decentralised energy systems, Costa Rica can conserve even larger areas of rainforest and maintain its delicate ecosystem which would have otherwise be subject to hydropower impacts. Further, combining renewable energy systems for cold-storage or drying processes can increase agricultural productivity in rural areas and strengthen economic diversification.

Fair Future

Decentralised, citizens owned energy projects can generate 2-8 times more local revenue than a project carried out by external actors. Empowering citizens to produce energy also has a positive impact on energy saving behaviour, and stable and fair price regulations. Community energy also helps to promote solidarity, due to their inclusive character and likelihood to invest into local projects, also building capacities as well as green jobs. The Costa Rican cooperation COOPEGUANACASTE was able to increase energy access to almost 100% in the north-western region, provide over 100,000 end-users with electricity, gain around 400 direct jobs for local communities, and reinvest into reducing energy poverty through their PV social program. They also proved that investing into renewable energy is profitable and supports economic growth.

A working group in Costa Rica focused on an inclusively developed policy roadmap which is based on scientific findings and embraces perspectives and needs from civil society, industry, academia, private sector and various government bodies. 

Courtesy of World Future Council

To replicate this success, Costa Rica’s Green Deal needs to promote community energy projects and empower and engage citizens in energy decision-making processes to lead local sustainable development and ensure a fair future for all.

Solidary Future

By going 100% renewable energy, Costa Rica would also electrify its transport sector, increase the number of electric vehicles and completely decarbonise the transport sector, decreasing reliance on diesel imports. Of course, a Green Deal would thus need to include re-skilling people working in the country’s only refinery company RECOPE. However, seeing that Costa Rica has immense solar and wind energy potential, a Green Deal could invest into building up a green hydrogen industry alongside manufacturing of electric cars. Both can open up new export markets, strengthen economic growth and provide regional green assistance and know-how to neighbouring countries.

In a nutshell, the sun was never so bright as it is today to implement an ambitious Green Deal in Costa Rica. An inclusive, sustainable, resilient future begins today, and all actions the Costa Rican government is taking now, has an impact on the future. The capacities and infrastructure needed to go 100% renewable energy, need to be built now.