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How to fight and adapt to climate change while simultaneously realising inclusive development: that was the key global challenge discussed by President Luis Guillermo Solís of Costa Rica in a speech at the UvA on Thursday, 11 May 2017.

President Solís of Costa Rica delivers a speech at the UvA's Agnietenkapel, introduced by the CEDLA's Barbara Hogenboom.
President Solís and the CEDLA's Barbara Hogenboom. Photo by Daniël Rommens

In an inspiring speech held in the university's Agnietenkapel, Solís focused on inclusive development and gender.

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Public burden

The president stressed the tremendous strain climate action places on governments and communities, as the money to pay for it will need to come from already over-burdened public budgets. He stated this burden falls particularly heavily on poor and more vulnerable communities that mainly consist of women, children and the elderly.  'They suffer, directly, the full impact of climate change, and are also the ones that end up paying up the lion’s share of the costs of policy implementation.’

Gender Action Plan 

Because of this disproportionate impact, Solís made a strong plea for a gender-balanced approach. 

In this regard, he recognized the Dutch government for co-sponsoring, together with Costa Rica, actions focused on developing a Gender Action Plan for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). 'Worldwide, women refuse to be passive actors in the face of climate change. This is encouraging, and we must therefore look at this initiative as a way to ensure that no one is left behind'.

President Solís and Geert ten Dam at Agnietenkapel
President Solís and Geert ten Dam. Photo by Daniël Rommens

Political will and joint action

Political will is indispensable, President Solís claimed convincingly: 'There is a wealth of scientific data that allow us to identify the course of action to be taken to reverse or slow climate change. The challenges are not just in the creation and implementation of policy, although it is an important part of the equation.  More relevant is to achieve political will to achieve a global approach to climate change that provides the enabling conditions towards concrete actions at the field level.'

Achieving a global low-carbon development path in order to hold the rise in the global average temperature below 1.5 degrees might seem like a daunting objective. But Solís argued it is achievable if climate action and its financial costs are 'undertaken by governments, jointly with the private sector, cities and civil society' as part of the efforts to 'mainstream climate action as central to the national development planning process.'

Renewable energy record

Costa Rica is setting an example to the world. Hydroelectric power has been its main source of energy supply since the 1960s, representing over 75% of the country’s matrix. Recently Solís’ country made the international news for the extraordinary fact that, in two consecutive years, more than 98% of electricity production was from renewable sources, with energy obtained from hydro, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass sources.

In a lively discussion with the audience of students and researchers, the President acknowledged that hydroelectric dams can have adverse effects on local communities, which need to be addressed with great care. In the future, a greater reliance on geothermal energy may help solve this problem.

President Solís visited the UvA as part of a two-day visit to the Netherlands, and was welcomed by the university’s President Geert ten Dam, as well as Prof. Michiel Baud, the Director of the UvA’s Centre for Latin American Study and Documentation. In her welcoming speech, Ten Dam focused on the importance of maintaining ties between ‘countries like the Netherlands and Costa Rica which are aware of the benefits of collaboration and partnership’.