Journalists from the Americas Report on Costa Rica’s Transition to a Low Carbon Economy

Twenty journalists from eleven countries took part in the climate journalism workshop – a joint effort of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN), the Stanley Foundation and Latin Clima. Participants were able to learn from a wide range of speakers and field trips about the plans and goals for decarbonization by a country that is internationally recognized for its efforts to protect the environment. But it was also an opportunity to see the challenges the country still faces, regarding issues like transportation, waste water, and green employment.

To date, participating journalists have produced at least fourteen stories in seven different countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru and Uruguay) as a result of the event.

In addition to receiving a welcome message from Costa Rica’s President, the journalists met with the Minister of Environment and President of the UN Environment Assembly, Edgar Gutierrez, as well as the Senior Advisor on Climate Change for the Minister of Environment and Energy and Member of the Costa Rican Negotiation Group at the UNFCCC, Pascal Girot. They also heard perspectives from representatives of the private sector and organizations like the Entrepreneurial Association for Development (AED), la Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Cordillera Volcánica Central (FUNDECOR), the National Forestry Financial Fund (FONAFIFO), the Costa Rican Network of Natural Reserves and the organization Costa Rica Limpia

Gutierrez talked about some of the achievements the country has made—most importantly that 99% of the country’s electricity production now reportedly comes from renewable energy. He also noted the country’s goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021, although he acknowledged that this was more of a “voluntary goal” to get key stakeholders moving and thinking about what needs to be done. Actual decarbonization will take much longer, and is beset by many challenges, particularly those in the growing transportation sector.

The journalists also learned about Costa Rica’s Low Carbon Emissions Programs and about the National Energy Plan for 2015-2030: The Road to a Clean Energy Transition. A multi-stakeholder panel discussed Costa Rica’s low-carbon energy policies, and other speakers addressed the country´s Environmental Services Payment Program, forestry strategies and private-sector perspectives.

“I liked the knowledge of the speakers and the possibility to interview them individually,” said Maria Paz Sartori, from Búsqueda, based in Uruguay.

After an intense first day in a conference room, the participants were able to see some of Costa Rica’s initiatives and landscapes firsthand on several field trips. The first stop was in Monteverde, a natural reserve trying to protect the forest while developing tourism. The journalists met with scientist Alan Pounds from the Tropical Science Center, who has been monitoring the effects of climate change in this cloud forest for decades. As temperatures are rising, this cloud forest seems to be in the process of changing into a rain forest, he warned, altering the forest’s ecosystem.

Journalists also visited a coffee bean processing facility with a project to produce and use cleaner energy from biomass. Coffee production in Costa Rica is the first recognized Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) or low-carbon development strategy for coffee in the world, according to Damian Mejía, manager of Coopeldos NAMA.

The next stop was the Tejona Wind Power Project and Lake Arenal Dam where the group learned about the importance of renewable energy in Costa Rica from Carlos Obregón, president of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute. The 99 percent of the country’s electricity that comes from renewable sources includes a mix of hydropower, geothermal (taken from the heat of volcanoes), wind power, biomass and solar plants. Costa Rica’s national electricity grid is one of the cleanest in Latin America, if not the cleanest.

“Visiting Monte Verde and Tejona Wind Power Plant gave me a glance on what Costa Rica is doing to protect the environment,” said Pablo Correa from Colombian outlet El Espectador.

With this information in mind, participants discussed the stories they were planning to do and the differences and similarities between Costa Rica and their own countries. The facilitators of these discussions were EJN Global Director James Fahn, and network members Fermin Koop and Maria Clara Valencia. Karla Maass, the Regional Campaign Communications Officer of CAN International also talked about how decarbonization Strategies in Costa Rica connect to regional and international policy.

“The workshop was a wonderful opportunity to bring together leading climate journalists from the Americas, working on climate change issues and learning about Costa Rica’s efforts to become a carbon neutral nation, along with the many challenges it is facing,” said Katiana Murillo, the head of LatinClima.

Devon Terrill, Program Officer for Media at the Stanley Foundation, mentioned that program organizers “wanted to create an opportunity for journalists to learn about how a small country like Costa Rica is successfully decarbonizing its economy and working to mitigate climate change, while also striving to do more to protect the environment and the planet from the impacts of climate change.”

Terrill added that “interacting with government officials, local scientists and non-governmental organizations, combined with several field trips, helped journalists to contextualize climate policies and progress and bring this perspective into their work back home.”

Antonio Paz Cardona, a journalist from Colombia, highlighted the opportunity to obtain a broader perspective on these environmental issues, to be able to compare Costa Rica’s efforts with those in his country, and to analyze what is working and what is not.

“It was very useful, and I am going to share my experience not just with my readers but with my colleagues,” added Mónica Oblitas, a reporter from Bolivia.

Other than acquiring knowledge, the exchange between journalists and the networks created was a key outcome of the workshop. “What I liked most was the meeting with the colleagues from almost every part of Latin America, the creation of a network with them and the possibility to work again in the future,” concluded Mexican journalist Pablo Hernandez Mares.