Strengthening Renewables in a Green New Deal

While we are facing the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, the climate and biodiversity crisis continues to threaten human life on earth. Hence, legislators around the world are tasked to develop Green New Deals (GND). GND are regulatory frameworks that, at their most ambitious, envision a decarbonised economy that serves people and planet, creating sustainable, fair and resilient societies.

During an online legislative dialogue, parliamentarians exchanged insights and learnings from Costa Rica and the European Union on the development of GNDs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The key question was put on the role of renewable energy, given that it needs to be the backbone of a decarbonised economy and a resilient society.

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! Despite this leadership, around 70% of the country’s overall energy still comes from oil and gas, which is mainly used for transport, heating processes in the industry, as well as for cooking. With the strong political leadership and commitment in place, the time is ripe for Costa Rica to implement an ambitions Green Deal based upon its Decarbonization Plan and 100% Renewable Energy.

The Central American country has the potential for about 200 GW 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. A study conducted by the University of Technology Sydney proved that utilising about 6% of the total solar power potential in the country and 25% of Costa Rica’s wind power potential would suffice to supply Costa Rica´s energy, which is continuously rising due to socio-economic development. Wind and solar energy can be distributed, reducing needed infrastructure capacity and thus increasing resilience to extreme weather events and reducing maintaining costs. As highlighted in the dialogue, storage requirements are often regarded as a key obstacle. However, the study unveiled that it can be kept as low as 30% of generation capacity, with the exception of the north-western region of Guanacaste, which has the highest renewable energy potential.

By deploying distributed energy systems based on technological diversification, Costa Rica can conserve large areas of rainforest and maintain its delicate ecosystem. As highlighted by participants of the legislative dialogue, hydropower impacts are currently threatening the natural environment across the country and contributing to models of centralised energy governance without adequate involvement of all sectors and actors. Finally, combining renewable energy systems for cold-storage or drying processes can increase agricultural productivity in rural areas and strengthen economic diversification.

With the transport sector being the largest consumer of fossil energy, Costa Rica must increase participation of electric mobility and completely decarbonise the transport sector, decreasing reliance on diesel imports. Dedicated policy instruments are required to facilitate investments and boost cultural change, implementing a multi-modal mobility model based on sustainable mass transport solutions. Electricity and (sustainable) biofuel production will be the main pillars and must be complemented by green hydrogen production in the country.

Fair Future

Given that decentralised, citizens owned energy projects can generate 2-8 times more local revenue than a project carried out by external actors, the dialogue unveiled the necessity for inclusive policy making. The Costa Rican cooperation COOPEGUANACASTE, for example, 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 in renewable energy is profitable, builds technical capacities and supports distributed economic growth.

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. Here, participants highlighted that gender equity plays a critical role. There needs to be a special emphasis to include women in the green, renewable, resilient, just and sustainable economic transformation. This signals that Green New Deal policies need to be comprehensive and integrated across sectors.

A learning that was also shared by European legislator Anna Cavazzini. She explained that the EU aims to be climate neutral in 2050. Reaching this target will require action by all sectors, including agriculture and international trade as well as ensuring a just and inclusive transition. For this, the EU provides financial support and technical assistance to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy (Just Transition Mechanism). Hereby, European Members States mobilise about €100 billion over the period 2021-2027 in the most affected regions and people.

Hence, one of the key learnings of the dialogue was that Green New Deals need to include re-skilling people. Concretely, this may include harnessing solar and wind energy potential for green hydrogen industries alongside manufacturing of electric-powered vehicles. Both can open up new markets, strengthen economic growth and provide regional know-how to neighbouring countries.

This Webinar was part of the World Future Council project 100%Renewable Energy in Costa Rica. It was held in Spanish and co-organised by La Ruta del Clima, Paola Vega (member of Costa Rican parliament, speaker of the Environmental Committee and member of the GRC), and the World Future Council.