Elis work on carbon policy

Roberto Jiminez SOM ’09 hopes to aid Costa Rica in developing a plan to reduce carbon emissions.
Roberto Jiminez SOM ’09 hopes to aid Costa Rica in developing a plan to reduce carbon emissions. Photo by Jessica Letchford.

Roberto Jimenez SOM ’09 thought he was going to Costa Rica to relax after a hectic final semester at the School of Management.

But instead of spending the summer exploring lush rainforests, Jimenez and his newly formed group, CO2Neutral2021, worked on drafting a road map to help Costa Rica meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2021. His team’s comprehensive report, which has received some criticism from government officials and industry leaders, predicted that Costa Rica is currently only on track to eliminate two-thirds of its carbon emissions by its national bicentennial in 2021.

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At first glance, Costa Rica, which is only responsible for 0.02 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, has a fairly good environmental track record: It has managed to reforest one-third of the country since the 1980s, and now has 52 percent forest cover, said Paul Beaton LAW ’10 FES ’10, who worked on the project.

But Jimenez said much of Costa Rica’s strong eco-friendly reputation is just talk — particularly President Oscar Arias’ goal to make Costa Rica carbon neutral by 2021. Jimenez said that although Costa Rica has “very ambitious plans,” especially in contrast to most other developing countries that tend to blame the Western powerhouses for triggering global warming, they have done little to combat the problem directly.

“When you get down to the details, you find out that the country isn’t doing a lot to back up its assertions,” Jimenez said in a phone interview from Costa Rica. “I’m very proud of this [goal of carbon neutrality] — it made me very proud to be a Costa Rican — but we actually need to act on it.”

After realizing Costa Rica needed to take action, Jimenez took the initiative to pull together a team of Elis and Costa Ricans. In mid-July, he contacted a wide range of friends and friends of friends, searching for the right people to join his team. In the end, four other Yale graduate students and seven young Costa Rican leaders agreed to meet in Costa Rica at their own expense for about 10 days — starting Aug. 18, less than a month later.

“I was easy to sell,” said Daniella Aburto FES ’10, who worked on the team. “There was no need to be persuading me.”

The team spent a hectic, sleepless week researching how many tons of carbon would be reduced in each sector by 2021.

“[Roberto’s] place was like the Big Brother house,” Aburto said. “We were all working 24/7, all the time. It was like a social experiment.”

Jimenez said he too was inspired by the team’s “love of labor,” describing how throughout the day and night, people would pass out on couches for an hour and then get up and keep working. On Aug. 24, they presented their findings in a formal report to more than 70 business executives at the Costa Rican-American Chamber of Commerce. They also made presentations at the American and British embassies, both of whom expressed interest in working with CO2Neutral2021 in the future.

But some industry leaders and government officials, such as the Costa Rican minister of environment and energy and a group from the Union of Chambers of Commerce, were not happy about the conclusions of the report, which predicted that Costa Rica would only be able to eliminate 10 of the 16 million tons of carbon it is projected to emit by 2021, Jimenez said.

He explained that their report was meant, in part, to encourage the leaders to determine for themselves where Costa Rica stood on its path to carbon neutrality. But he said they are afraid of the “sobering picture” that stands in stark contrast to their reputation as an eco-tourist destination.

“How can you know if you can become carbon neutral if you don’t know where you are today or how you’re going to get there,” Jimenez said emphatically. “We are adamant that this has to be out in the open in national discourse.”

CO2Neutral2021 is now setting its sights on Copenhagen, where world leaders will meet in December to hash out a new plan for tackling climate change, and the Costa Rican presidential elections next year.

Although the group is limited by lack of funding and personnel, they will continue raising awareness about what Costa Ricans need to do to reach carbon neutrality, Jimenez said. They have plans to write a series of articles on climate change with Costa Rica’s largest newspaper, and they will also be working with the British Embassy in a campaign to get Costa Rican schoolchildren to write letters to Western leaders asking for help in reaching carbon neutrality, he said.

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