I arrived in Costa Rica for the first time in September 2017. I came with the task of starting a project from the German government in support of the Costa Rican government in its fight against climate change, specifically to address the causes of global warming generated in the sector. of transport.
I took advantage of those first weeks to explore the city on foot. Possibly that was my first encounter with the reality of transport and mobility in the country. I remember one of my first impressions: “Okay, this city is not made for pedestrians”.
Walking is the main way we move. Since we got up in the morning, we started walking. When leaving home, various reasons and ways arise that will guide our mobilization. I must go to work? I go to school? To buy? To the park? Will I walk, use the car, the bus or the bicycle? In all these reasons for moving and in all the options to do so, we can contribute to a better, more affordable, cleaner, more pleasant, more efficient transport, that is, more sustainable.
Why is this important?
Fortunately, few people still question the existence of the phenomenon known as climate change. The evidence accumulates and the detractors run out of arguments.The 2023/2024 El Niño phenomenon is likely to further reduce the number of skeptics in the face of urgent calls to slow the rate of climate change. The phenomenon itself is not new, we have known about it for a long time, but its intensity is new. July 2023: the warmest month on record on the planet.
The transport sector is one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2), a gas that is largely responsible for global warming, and therefore requires a profound transformation to meet the objective of the 2015/2016 Paris Agreement of limiting the global warming at 2°C.
In Costa Rica, more than 40% of all CO2 emissions come from the transport sector. Reducing these greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and switching to a climate-friendly transportation model are fundamental components of Costa Rica’s climate ambition, as defined in its formal commitment to the international community at the United Nations through the document known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC).
Achieving this profound transformation is not easy. The transport sector is complex, with a large number of interconnected issues and various actors with direct and indirect influence on the necessary changes.It is crucial that the main actors within this set of individuals, organizations and institutions take the initiative and begin to implement the measures necessary to achieve change.
The good news is that there is a lot we can do. One of the first actions we undertook when starting the MiTransporte project with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH was to carry out a series of studies to fully understand the reality of transportation in Costa Rica.
One of these studies included a survey of approximately 1,000 public transport users. One of the questions focused on the reasons why people choose to use public transport. Surprisingly, one of the most common answers was “carry out paperwork”.
In the era of digitization, we should have overcome the need to physically move to carry out procedures. Many processes can be simplified with virtual solutions.Digitizing procedures is the first measure that we must take to impact the transport sector. If I can pay my bills online, I don’t need to use any means of transportation. If we don’t use motorcycles, cars or buses, we don’t emit greenhouse gases either. We are contributing to the climate.
Avoiding these unnecessary trips is the first thing we can do in our fight against climate change. The question is: who is responsible for making it possible? Who should digitize the procedures? We will leave this question here for now.
When it is unavoidable to move from one place to another, we also have options to decide how to do it. To answer this question, let’s go back to the beginning of this essay: walking should always be the first option, when possible.
And this is where the perception that San José left me in my first weeks reappears, a perception that was confirmed when I found streets without sidewalks, crosswalks without traffic lights for pedestrians, sidewalks inadequate for walking (much less for wheelchairs or baby carriages). ), bridges barely half a meter wide for pedestrians and many other situations that do not encourage walking.
Changing our means of transportation to reduce GHG emissions, such as walking or cycling, is difficult if the conditions are not right. So let’s ask again: who is responsible for ensuring that all streets have sidewalks, that all major junctions have pedestrian traffic signals, and that all cyclists can navigate safely?
And as for the bicycle, I want to make an additional observation. Many criticize bike lanes because they are not used. But, if you lived in Alajuela and worked in Cartago, and the only stretch of street with a bike lane was a small stretch between Pavas and Paseo Colón, would you use the car? We need a network of bike lanes, but it needs to be a serious network. This is very similar to what happens with public transportation. Basically, the system has not undergone significant changes in decades. No wonder people prefer to get off the bus in order to use Uber?
Finally, if we are going to use the car or motorcycle, we should opt for electric vehicles. We must improve engine technology. Buses could also be electric or, at least, use more efficient and less polluting diesel engines. The same applies to cargo trucks. Trains should also be electric. Costa Rica has the knowledge and capacity to do so. You just need to make the decision.
And here the question arises: who will pay for all these changes?
It is the million dollar question. Indeed, all this comes at a cost. It requires a significant investment. The government, companies and individuals, we all have to contribute.However, the question is incomplete. A second part is missing: how much will it cost us not to make these changes to stop climate change? How much will it cost to repair homes and streets due to future flooding? Who will compensate farmers who lose their crops due to lack of rain? How will we pay for health expenses related to the increase in respiratory diseases due to air pollution in cities? Who will recognize the increasing hours lost in traffic day after day, week after week, month after month?
There is much to do, but we must do it. It is not optional. We’ve already caused enough damage. It seems that we will not stop until we destroy our own living environment. I wonder, what will parents say to their children in 30 or 40 years, when they complain about the devastated planet that we are inheriting? It would be interesting to conduct a survey with that question. But that is something for another day.