CBIT support in Costa Rica aims at breaking down silos of knowledge
Interview with Agripina Jenkins Rojas, from the Climate Change Office of the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica
Costa Rica has been very active in climate change and environment, and also in taking steps also on transparency of climate actions. Why is it important for Costa Rica to strengthen its climate transparency system?
I will make a little bit of history regarding this why. Costa Rica has a history of an environmentally friendly country and, when we were in the imminence of having the Paris Agreement, one of the first things we decided, as a country, was to be ambitious. Not only ambition on the goals for Paris but also on having a way to report on those goals, in a real transparent way. That goes back to an amendment that we were having in the country with our policy for national data, and the need for breaking down silos of knowledge, in which sometimes you have the information in the Ministry of Environment and Energy and you have the information in the Ministry of Public Works and Transport but they are not quite talking to each other. This is mainly due to our national circumstances in which many people often don't see the need for sharing information, especially if it doesn't seem to be useful for them.
Therefore, part of having the transparency framework of Paris Agreement was related to reporting on the international level, but the most important part was to have a system that would allow us, in Costa Rica, to have information available nationally and to take political decisions based on the actual reality of the country. That type of information will allow us to take decisions in a transparent way, and will allow the Costa Rican society to get that information as well. For example: if you are part of the academia, you can do your own research on that information; if you want to know what the Ministry of Environment and Energy is doing about climate change, you can have that information; and you can also know what is the Ministry of Transport doing about it. There is data that you need as a policy maker to take decisions, but also allows for citizens to audit what the government is doing.
Costa Rica was one of the first countries to access CBIT funds. How was it to be one of the front-runners?
As soon as we saw what the Paris Agreement was going to be about we realized that: ok, we have the article of the decision that creates CBIT, and we were ready and seeking to have this transparency framework. It's not like SINAMEC (the national system of metrics in climate change) was made due to the Paris Agreement, we were already thinking about doing it before Paris. We wanted to have a more efficient and transparent way of making GHG inventories, and we wanted to provide support to the people doing it. Since they already follow the guidelines established by the IPCC for making the reporting.
Of course it's also the way we want to develop our country. If you read the NDC of Costa Rica it says we are on the pathway of decarbonisation of our economy, and this was previous to the Paris Agreement. Not only does the Agreement now says that on the article 4, but Costa Rica had already made that commitment long time ago, on our bi-centennial, when we made a voluntary disclosure about being carbon neutral in 2021. So, we already had that type of commitment and then we submitted the NDC and say this is the way we are going to do it. But then you need to realize how you are going to do it, it's not only about being transparent but it's also creating value for the rest of our colleagues in the other ministries, and also for the private sector to understand what we are doing. For us, one of the ways of doing that is of course providing the data open access, so that everybody can access it.
I see. So, when you were designing the CBIT project, was it an exercise involving different ministries?
We had help from UNEP DTU Partnerhip, which helped us on the scoping and the vision. So, yes it was inter-governmental but the private sector was also there because a lot of data for MRV (measurement, reporting, and verification) in Costa Rica, and I think globally, is going to be fed by the private sector. At the end of the day, the private sector is the one that makes the transformation necessary for anything that has to do with climate change. The government of course gives the guidelines and indicates the pathway, but the private sector needs to get on-board and say: you know what, this is really important for us and we need to be more efficient. And that's the way we have been talking about climate change to the private sector: it's about efficiency.
Right. Regarding the engagement of private sector, I am sure this is not something that happens overnight. Can you tell us a bit about how this has happened in Costa Rica, and what has worked and what didn't work?
Yes. The private sector has started to be on-board more clearly, with a program that was created that is the carbon neutral programme. It's a voluntary programme that you can adhere to, if you have a company and you want to be carbon neutral. You get through the programme and then get a certificate or a recognition, which is a seal that you can use not on your product but on your organization, attesting that you are carbon neutral. This is a voluntary scheme that we have, we have more than 130 companies already involved, that are carbon neutral or at least they have the inventory of GHG, which is a big effort if you think about it. In case you don't know about inventories then you need to have support, and we provide a lot of information for that support. That was the first approach, I might say, on carbon neutrality in Costa Rica.
Now, we have the carbon neutral version 2, which is not only for the organization but is also for provinces or districts. There are guidelines on how you can be a carbon neutral district. That means that you need to measure all your emissions as a district, at sub-national level. So, we now have a pilot for 6 different municipalities, they are working on that with the support of GIZ, and they're studying for example how do I get information from the companies that are inside my district on emissions. Again, if you think about it these are substantial changes, and an interesting result is that municipalities need to get in touch with what is going on in the private sector within their area.
But there's also another approach on getting to the private sector, and that was the NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions). Our first NAMA was the Coffee NAMA and it had the full involvement of our Institute of Coffee. The Institute of Coffee in Costa Rica, their board, is mainly the private sector. It's the chamber of toasters, producers, and also the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has a chair there, and so that institution is fully committed on coffee. The only way to make a transformation in that sector was to have the private sector and an institution like this one convinced of that change. So that's another approach. And of course there is the Livestock NAMA, and we have the National Chamber of Milk there, and the Corporation for Livestock there too. An interesting thing is that we have those two sectors, because they are big emitters, in Costa Rica for the agriculture sector. But we have also for example, the Corporation for Bananas knocking on the door of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock and the Ministry of Environment and saying: we need this, we want a NAMA for the banana sector.
Therefore, the private sector is not only part of this, benefitting from this, but is also knocking on the door and saying that they want it. They have seen that it works for coffee, and they are convinced not only on the efficiency but also they see a way of branding the Costa Rican products. Why? Because producing in Costa Rica is expensive, comparing to other Central American countries, plus we don't have that much land to produce large quantities of agricultural products. We have 52 per cent forest-covered area and you need to produce in the rest of it. And here what we can do is really to say that you are not only buying a bag of coffee that it's really good quality, but you are also buying coffee from a country that has social laws implemented, that has 52% of forested area, and that produces coffee that is low on GHG emissions.
Can you tell us a bit about how the CBIT support will feed into the Costa Rican vision of transparency?
It's mainly about the strategic planning unit, the unit that will be like the brain behind the SINAMECC. Right now, in Costa Rica there is no way we can make a new unit or a new institution because we are in a fiscal situation that doesn't allow for that and also the public opinion is that the government is too big. So, this strategic planning unit will be formed by people that are already in the University of Costa Rica, in the Ministry of Transport, and so on. And they will put their expert views and knowledge on how the transparency framework is going to work in Costa Rica, and how to maintain it. But this unit will not look only at projects, but will take a programmatic approach. This means that they will have to see all the planning of Costa Rica regarding climate change and make it transversal. We already had discussions with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning because our new development plan, which is usually set up every 4 years, will now have climate change not as part of the ministry of environment but as a transversal subject. So this kind of transversal analysis, we need more people for doing that and we need their expertise.
I know that Costa Rica has experience with peer-to-peer learning with Red INGEI, but could you provide other examples of Costa Rica engaging in knowledge exchange or similar experience?
R: We are really open to that kind of experience. There are, for example, informal talks with our colleagues from Colombia about what they are doing, because they are also negotiators for the climate change negotiations and we are negotiating in the same group, so we have that contact with them really close. We have a lot of experience with different projects. For example, for the coffee NAMA that I mentioned before there were experiences with Dominican Republic, Peru, and, if I am not mistaken, also Honduras. We have the experience of people asking: we have heard what you are doing with a NAMA and we want to see what you're doing. That is happening often in Costa Rica.
But we have also a lot of experience with other subjects, and that is for more than 25 years now. The first one, I would say, is this important thing that we want to become, which is a green hub. A green hub is the hub for the knowledge about decarbonisation of economies. For this, we have a lot of experience in two key things: the first one is renewable energy - Costa Rica produces more than 90% of its energy from renewables, and that has been so for a long time. And the other is our environmental service payments: we were the 1st country in the tropical area to change the deforestation rate, and to reforest to the point where we are now. We have a lot of experience on these two, and we have a lot of countries coming to Costa Rica to see what we have done.
We also want to have the same thing with SINAMECC. One of the key aspects of SINAMECC is the availability of data, and that's why it's built on open data; and the other is that it is an open source software, which means that countries can take it and change it to their national circumstances. There are licensed tools available for developing countries, and maybe they are really good software, but if you don't have the budget for buying new licenses or to renew those licenses, what can you do? We have been through that also in Costa Rica, and it turned out that we had to forget about that system and get a new one because there is no way we could pay thousands of dollars on those licenses.
I know this can be controversial but for us is really important that we are in ownership of our system. Not only on the international level but also on the national level. What happens when you don't have systems that can talk between themselves, like between 2 ministries? That's really bad for us. So we need to think not only in terms of open data and if we can buy a license for everybody, but also on whether the system is good for us. For us it's not the same to build our own system or to use a system that comes from a developed country and to adapt the system to the context of a developing country. Over all, we need technology that can work in our context.
So we are really open to share the knowledge. It's not something we want to keep for ourselves. As I mentioned, it doesn't make any good if only Costa Rica can apply this technology or if only other country can apply it. The value of knowledge increases when it's shared and we want to be there for the community.
Now, focusing on the CBIT platform: how do you think we can make it useful for peer-to-peer learning? How can the platform help?
I think that what I saw looks nice, but we still need to figure out how on a national basis are we going to feed that platform, so it will be useful for other countries. The self-assessment tool will be really useful because it will make us evaluate what we are doing and how we are doing it, and that is really important. But we need to figure out first how we, in the country, will do it, and get that feedback out there. It is good that the platform is not only like a repository of documents, but it also allows us to keep on track with the project, and evaluate how we are doing the process.
For example, we were discussing about having the assessment once per year, or every 6 months, and a lot of people were saying that the assessment will allow to see the progress on the project. So, we need the assessment tool to show that it's not only the work of one person, but it's the work of one team. I think it's a great opportunity, not only to know what other countries are doing but also on national level to keep on track. And also sometimes change happens and the person that used to work in the agency is no longer there, or the person working in the ministry is no longer there. When you have that type of change, having the information about the project in the platform will be helpful. People can move away from the ministry or agency, and probably all the information about the project is in the ministry but it takes time to find out, and it can be easier and faster just to go to the CBIT platform. I think it's important that the platform will also evolve with the projects.
Yes. The idea is to fine-tune the CBIT platform to the needs of countries, as they start to implement the projects, and understand what works and what doesn't work.
We have to deal with projects and platforms that need to evolve, and sometimes if we don't have the time or resources to do it, this unfortunately can cause that people may not use them. So I think that is a key factor: the fact that we can give feedback to the platform and make changes. I think that will allow us to keep on track.