REDD+ projects 0
Other readiness initiatives 15
Forest cover High
Deforestation rate Low

Costa Rica

REDD in Costa Rica

The Republic of Costa Rica (Costa Rica) is at the forefront of biodiversity conservation and natural resources management; its Payment for Ecosystem Services Programme (PPSA) is widely considered to be the most successful of its kind (GEF 2005).

Costa Rica borders Panama to the South and Nicaragua to the North. It is the third-smallest country in Central America, with an area of 51,100km2 (CIA 2013) and a population of 4.71m (INEC 2011). Its position on the Central American Isthmus and its varied geography contribute to very high levels of biodiversity; despite covering only 0.03% of the world’s landmass it contains 4.8% of all species so far identified (GOC 2009).

Costa Rica is an upper middle-income country with a GDP in 2012 of US$45.2bn (WB 2013). It has had social spending close to 20% for several years (CIA 2013) and it abolished its army in 1948. Costa Rica tops the New Economics Foundation Happy Planet Index (NEF 2013) and according to the United Nations Development Report Office (MALIK & KUGLER 2013), it is one of only two countries in the global South to perform highly in all four categories of human development.

Costa Rica is a pioneer at the global level in the use of market mechanisms to reduce deforestation. As early as 1996 it sold its first 200,000 tonnes of certified emissions reductions to a consortium of Norwegian energy companies (SUBAK 1999). With Papua New Guinea in 2005 it was the first country to propose a mechanism within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce emissions from deforestation. In 2007 it became one of only four countries worldwide to commit to becoming carbon neutral by 2021. The current National Development Plan (PND) makes “environment and land-use planning” one of the four national priorities for 2011-2014 and states that environmental protection should be a motor of development (GOCR 2010).

PPSA, which began in 1997, is the most well known of all Costa Rica’s environmental policies. Under PPSA, Costa Rica pays private owners of forest to conserve forest or allow it to regenerate in return for the ecosystem services they produce. Costa Rica has identified four ecosystem services which are covered by the PPSA: (i) emissions mitigation; (ii) protection of water sources; (iii) provision of scenic beauty; and (iv) protection of biodiversity. International markets failed to develop as hoped, leading Costa Rica to implement PPSA initially as a purely national mechanism. Tax revenue (particularly hydrocarbon) is the largest source of funding.

Until the 1980s, policies and incentives in Costa Rica favoured deforestation, particularly for cattle rearing. Costa Rica saw a precipitous fall in forest cover, from 63% in 1960 to 21% in 1987 (GOCR 2011). Though Costa Rica had begun to regain forest before PPSA was implemented, it has been instrumental in helping Costa Rica rebound to 2.67m Ha. or 52.4% forest cover in 2010 (51% according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) (FONAFIFO 2012; FAO 2010). 

The increase in forest cover is slowing, however; Government estimates that under a business as usual scenario, the effects of PPSA would level off at 55% forest cover (GOCR 2011). To continue increasing forest cover, Costa Rica plans to extend PPSA by another 342,000 Ha as the backbone of its REDD+ Programme (GOCR 2013a).

Costa Rica has been a Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) participant since July 2008. In 2009, the FCPF Costa Rica received its US$200,000 readiness grant to prepare its Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP). The FCPF approved the R-PP in Costa Rica in 2010 (FCPF 2010) authorizing a further grant of US$3.4m, later increased to US$3.6m with the addition of US$200,000 to develop a grievance redress mechanism.

In February 2013, Costa Rica submitted an Emissions Reduction Project Idea Note (ER-PIN) to the FCPF’s Carbon Fund, which was approved in Paris in June 2013 (FCPF-CF 2013). All the carbon elements of Costa Rica’s REDD+ activities are included in the ER-PIN, which aims to mitigate emissions through avoided deforestation and increased carbon sequestration by 29.5m tC or approximately 108m tCO2e between 2010 and 2020. The current February 2013 version of the ER-PIN mistakenly states uses tCO2 instead of tC thereby understating emissions reductions by a factor of 3.67 (FONAFIFO personal communication). In September 2013, the World Bank signed a Letter of Intent with Costa Rica to purchase up to US$63m of CO2 at US$5 per tonne, representing 11.1% of the total emissions reductions in the 2010-2020 period (FCPF 2013). At the time of writing (December 2013) Costa Rica is not a UN-REDD partner country.

Under the 1996 Forestry Law, the National Forest Financing Fund (FONAFIFO), which implements the PPSA, acquires all rights to emissions reductions arising from areas which it funds through the PPSA. From 2021, Costa Rica will need to retain most of the credits it produces in order to offset its own emissions and meet the target of becoming carbon neutral. According to the 2010 NEEDS project (National Economic, Environment and Development Study for Climate Change), cited in the R-PP, by maintaining the current PPSA and incorporating new REDD activities, the forestry and agricultural sectors would be able to abate the business-as-usual (BAU) emissions scenario for Costa Rica by 79% by 2021, and projected emissions for the period 2021-2030 by 49% (PRATT et al 2010).

Though private carbon projects are permitted, since REDD+ incentives will be offered under the existing national PPSA, there are no stand-alone early REDD+ initiatives aiming to sell emissions reductions from avoided deforestation in the voluntary market.

Costa Rica aims to certify emissions reductions using the Voluntary Carbon Standard Jurisdictional Nested REDD+ (VCS-JNR) from the earliest date possible (likely to be 2005) until 2010, and using the FCPF from 2010 onwards. However it began implementing PPSA before REDD+ was established, let alone standards developed for measuring emissions reductions. During 2014, Costa Rica therefore plans to work to standardise its historic forest cover maps, prepare a forest inventory and establish a reference level and monitoring system that meet the requirement of VCS-JNR, the FCPF and of its own Costa Rican Domestic Voluntary Carbon Market (Mercado Doméstico Voluntario De Carbono De Costa Rica; MDVCR).

At the time of writing, Costa Rica operates a small FONAFIFO-to-business over the counter market in Ecosystem Services Certificates, each representing 1 Ha of PPSA for reforestation to protect water catchment areas (PORRAS et al 2012). The largest transaction volume is in reforestation to protect catchment areas and the main purchasers of these are large hydroelectric plants, which together fund approximately 3% of the total PPSA area (NAVARRO 2010). In September 2013, Costa Rica launched the MDVCR which will trade in Costa Rican Carbon Units (Unidades Costarricenses de Carbono; UCC) from a variety of sources potentially including forests.

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Institutional arrangements

Costa Rica has a mature set of institutions in charge of environmental management and since the existing Payment for Ecosystem Service Programme (PPSA) will form the backbone for REDD+, the institutional changes needed for REDD+ were minor.

The Ministry of Environment and Energy (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía; MINAE) is the executive body responsible for environmental matters. Within MINAE, the Climate Change Office (Dirección de Cambio Climático; DCC) is responsible for policies on climate change, including the national carbon market created in September 2013 and the policy of becoming a carbon neutral country in 2021.

The National Forest Finance Fund (Fondo Nacional de Financiamiento Forestal; FONAFIFO) is the Government institution that coordinates and implements PPSA in Costa Rica and is responsible for the development of the REDD+ strategy. FONAFIFO hosts the REDD+ Secretariat, in charge of supporting all elements of the design and implementation of REDD+. The REDD+ Executive Committee (Comité Ejecutivo REDD+) steers the REDD+ process and includes representation from key sectors.

The REDD+ Interinstitutional Committee (Comisión Interinstitucional REDD+) is made up of representatives of the institutions that will be responsible for implementing the different strands of the REDD+ Strategy. It meets regularly to ensure effective coordination and information sharing between them. It can convene working groups (mesas redondas) to deal with specific issues. As of December 2013, it has established one such working group - the National Forest Monitoring System Working Group (Sistema Nacional de Monitoreo de Bosques; SSNMB) - which has met five times to agree how to approach reference levels and monitoring for REDD+.

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Stakeholder engagement and participation

Costa Rica began early dialogues on REDD+ in 2010 as a first step towards preparing a consultation plan. At the time of writing (December 2013), Costa Rica remains in the informative and pre-consultation phase, with the formal consultation due to take place in the first half of 2014 (GOCR 2013c). The informative and pre-consultation phases have focused on two priority groups: (i) indigenous communities; and (ii) agro-forestry producers.

Consultations on REDD+ are the responsibility of the REDD+ Secretariat, which is hosted by the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO). FONAFIFO has delegated this responsibility to indigenous and agro-forestry organisations and non-governmental organisations for the early dialogue and pre-consultation phase but the REDD+ Secretariat itself will lead the consultations to prepare and finalise the REDD+ Strategy.

In pre-consultations with indigenous territories, the Bribri and Cabecar Indigenous Network (Red Indígena Bribri y Cabecar; RIBCA) has played a leading role. RIBCA represents eight territories and is one of five blocks of indigenous territories, which together group the 24 Indigenous Territories (TI) in Costa Rica. The other four blocks are the: (i) North Block (two territories), which includes the Northern plains and Nicoya Peninsula; (ii) The Central Block (two territories); (iii) the Aradikes Block (six territories), which is made up of the TI in Buenos Aires de Puntarenas and Pérez Zeledón Cantones; and (iv) the Gnöbe Block (six territories), in the South of the country. The REDD-CCAD-GIZ regional programme has supported this work through its Cultural Mediators Training Programme. Four of the five blocks and two communities from Aradikes block have expressed an interest in REDD+ and have participated in the pre-consultation phase. The remainder of the Aradikes Block is involved in contentious negotiations with Government over the construction of a hydroelectric dam and conversations to involve them are still underway (GOCR 2013c).

RIBCA proposed a pyramidal representation system that was adopted by the other participating blocks. Each TI sends two representatives, forming a General Assembly of 48 members. In May 2013 the General Assembly selected the two representatives for indigenous peoples on the REDD+ Executive Committee, which steers the REDD+ process nationally. The process is supported by the National Indigenous Technical Secretariat. None of these roles are full time and all are voluntary.

When early dialogues began on REDD+, agro-forestry producers did not have an organisation to represent them at the national level. In the framework of those discussions, which were facilitated by the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC), agro-forestry producers decided to form a new body to represent them, the National Forestry Union (UNAFOR). UNAFOR includes the majority of agro-forestry organisations in Costa Rica, but not all. For that reason a separate series of workshops was held in 2013 to select the representative for the "civil society or owners of degraded land" sector on the REDD+ Executive Committee.

Both RIBCA and UNAFOR have been lobbying for the creation of a differentiated Payment for Ecosystem Services Programme (PPSA) within REDD+. RIBCA has been lobbying for an Indigenous PPSA that recognises traditional productive and cultural practices and UNAFOR has been pushing for a smallholder PPSA (PPSA Campesino) that recognises the value of agro-forestry and improved agriculture in terms of carbon sequestration and reduced emissions. This is one of the strategic areas that will be considered under the Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) (SECRETARIA REDD+ 2013).

Each large and small-scale forest producer also has representation in the REDD+ Executive Committee. The producers are selected by the National Forestry Office (ONF), an NGO that was established by the 1996 Forestry Law to act as a bridge between Government and the private forestry sector.

Costa Rica has also prepared a communications strategy for REDD+ with both a Facebook page and a website.

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Land tenure arrangements and carbon rights

Land tenure in Costa Rica is a less contentious issue than in many Latin American countries, though no more equal: Costa Rica’s most recent agricultural census took place in 1984, according to which, properties of ten Ha or less make up 60.5% of all land holdings but only 5.4% of their total area, whilst properties over 200 Ha make up 2.9% of holdings and yet account for 47% of the total area (NAVARRO & THIEL 2007). A new agricultural census will take place in 2014 (INEC 2013).

There are eight different indigenous peoples in Costa Rica, totalling approximately 70,000 people or 1.68% of the population. Together they hold 24 indigenous territories (called “Reserves” by the 1977 Indigenous Law), mostly in the South, covering 334,447 Ha, or 6.5% of the national territory. Under the Indigenous Law, each of these is led by an Indigenous Holistic Development Authority (ADII). The Bribri-Cabécar are the most numerous people and their eight territories include approximately 80% of all indigenous land and indigenous-owned forests (BORGE 2008). The character of indigenous territories is mixed. They are communal in the sense that they may not be subdivided or seized, but private in the sense that members of the community can have titles over a section of the territory recognised by the ADII and can sell that territory to another member of the community (BORGE 2008).

Indigenous territories are the only examples of communal tenure in Costa Rica. This never developed in the rest of the country. Between the 1930s and 1980s successive governments promoted acquiring land by making productive use of unoccupied land, generally demonstrated by deforesting it (NAVARRO & THIEL 2007).

Costa Rica has had clear legal frameworks related to land for many years, but it has not had the systems to ensure their correct implementation. In particular, until recently, the land registry (giving legal details of ownership) was separate to and incompatible with the cadastre system (giving the physical description and location). Together with a lack of rural governance this led to a situation where many people were granted legal rights to land that already had an owner. This was particularly an issue in respect of Indigenous Reserves and State-owned protected areas (PRCR 2009). The Registry and Cadastre Regularisation Programme (PRCR), supported by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) worked from 2001 to 2013 to unify the two systems and identify issues with tenure. Resolving these issues, however, will take longer. The PRCR identified issues of overlap and/or squatting in the majority of the 19 Reserves it reviewed. Squatters occupy 39.3 % of the total area of all Reserves and 50% of the area of 10 different Reserves (GFC 2009; BORGE 2008 cited in GOCR 2011). At the time of writing (December 2013), only one community, the Kekoldi, has so far appealed (successfully) to the courts to oblige the State to evict the squatters (SERVINDI 2011).

Costa Rica has a total of approximately 2.67m Ha of forest (FONAFIFO 2012), the ownership of which can be split into four main categories (Percentages from 2005 - GOCR 2011): (i) National Parks and Biological Reserves, which should be State-owned and cover 11% of the country and including 22% of the forest; (ii) National Wildlife Refuges and Forestry Reserves, which may be private, public or mixed and cover 14% of the country, including 19% of the forest; (iii) Indigenous Territories, 6.5% of the country and 10% of the forest; and (iv) Private land, which includes 50% of the forest (GOCR 2011). According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), forest tenure in Costa Rica is 45% public and 55% private. However these figures are based on extrapolations from earlier FAO assessments (FAO 2010) so Costa Rica’s own figures should be preferred.

Through PPSA Costa Rica has been trading in carbon rights since 1997, though they are not specifically dealt with in Costa Rican legislation. In practice there is no doubt, however, that they are assets that accrue to the legal tenant of the relevant land and may be held privately and traded freely (NAVARRO 2010). Costa Rica’s Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) states this, based on an analysis of the country’s Civil Code (Arts. 253-254) and of the Constitutional Courts Resolution No546 of 1990 on derived rights from land (GOCR 2011).

In return for the payments under the PPSA, the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) acquires the rights to the four ecosystem services recognised by the 1996 Forestry Law, including the carbon rights (Art 65 Regulation of the Forestry Law). However the R-PP makes it clear that is not cancelling these credits to generate offsets (though it will from 2021 to become carbon-neutral). Rather it is holding them and may sell them on to a final user (GOCR 2013).

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Forest management

Costa Rica is divided administratively into seven provinces, which are in turn subdivided into Cantones, 81 in all, and finally into Districts. For purposes of environmental management by the National System of Conservation Areas (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación; SINAC) the entire national territory is also split into eleven Conservation Areas.

From the 1930s to the mid- 1980s, successive governments promoted colonization as a way to increase agricultural productivity. Costa Rica created the majority of its national parks in the late 1970s and early 1990s and introduced its first forestry incentives in 1986, the Forest Payment Certificate (CAF) for plantations (PORRAS et al 2012). Forest cover began to increase from 1987 onwards (GOCR 2011), helped by a crash in the international price of beef, by the evolution of the CAF to include forest management (CAFMA) and by the passage of a new Forestry Law in 1996.

The 1996 Forestry Law, as regulated by Decree 25721 of 1997, provides the current framework for forest management in Costa Rica. The policies it sets are strongly conservationist: (i) converting forests, even in private lands, to other land uses is prohibited; (ii) no harvesting of forest resources is permitted from State forests or of trees on steep inclines or protecting water sources; (iii) harvesting of private forest resources may only be carried out with certified management plans in place; and (iv) harvested wood may not be exported. Costa Rica’s governance framework and the territorial reach of its environmental management institutions ensure high rates of compliance.

If anything, the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. The strict protection of natural forests and the high barriers to sustainable forest management have led to over extraction from less-well protected agricultural lands and plantations (GOCR 2011). One of the main policy thrusts of the R-PP and ER programmes is therefore to increase the production and use of sustainable timber, both as a way of giving forests additional economic utility and as a way of sequestering extra carbon through increased use of long lasting harvested wood products (HWP) (GOCR 2013b).

Costa Rica’s national protected areas are known as Protected Wildlife Areas (Areas Silvestres Protegídas; ASP). There are seven different management categories, protecting a total of 26.2% of its territory (GOCR 2009). The categories most relevant to forests are: (i) National Parks; (ii) Biological Reserves; (iii) National Wildlife Refuges; and (iv) Forestry Reserves. The remaining categories are: (v) Wetlands; (vi) Protected Marine Areas; and (vii) Protective Areas, which are strips of territory along land borders and coastlines.

National Parks and Biological Reserves are the strictest management category and together contain 22% of the country’s forest (GOCR 2011). These should all be State property, having been expropriated or compulsorily purchased from pre-existing owners. However in many cases private rights persist, either because payment has not yet been made (CORBERA et al 2011) or because the historic issues with the land cadastre and registry which granted private rights subsequent to the declaration of the protected area. National Wildlife Refuges and Forestry Reserves may be private, public or mixed. Together they contain 19% of the country’s forest (GOCR 2011) and productive use is permitted, albeit heavily regulated.

The country’s 24 Indigenous Reserves contain 10% of the country’s forest (GOCR 2011), including many of the larger intact tracts. The 1977 Indigenous Law prevents them from converting forests while Decree 26511 of 1997 prevents them from commercialising their forest resources. CORBERA et al (2011) argue that this has negatively impacted indigenous livelihoods without necessarily demonstrating an increase in forest cover.

Exploitation of the 50% of forest that is found in private land is permitted via a management plan. The plan must be prepared by a forestry engineer and approved and overseen by a Forestry Regent (Regente Forestal), registered with the trade body, the College of Agricultural Engineers (CIAgro). Some interventions will also require a separate environmental impact assessment, which must be reviewed and approved by the National Environmental Technical Secretary (SETENA). Under the Forestry Law, owners of plantation forests are free to harvest their timber. However, the requirement for a transit permit has acted as an obstacle to their ability to sell the timber.

The main forestry policy instrument in Costa Rica is the Payment for Ecosystem Services Programme (PPSA), which began in 1997. The mix of activities and volumes supported by PPSA changes year-to-year, however, in general it funds forest protection, regeneration and plantations for five or ten years depending on the modality. As of 2010 PPSA had protected a total of 710,000 Ha, of which 504,000 Ha were still within the programme (PORRAS et al 2012; GOCR 2011). The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) operates a separate, smaller scheme of subsidies, the Programme to Develop Sustainable Agricultural Production (PFPAS). PPFAS is aimed at increasing small and medium-scale agricultural producers' income and living standards by helping them develop sustainable production systems, including through reforestation and the implementation of silvo-pastoral systems.

Though sustainable forest management of natural forests is permitted by law and is supported by the PPSA, in practice the cost and difficulty of preparing and implementing management plans favours protection over forest management (GOCR2011). PPSA is also heavily weighted towards protection; approximately 80% of the PPSA in 2013 is earmarked for protection and less than 1% for forest management. The conditions for forest management are so restrictive that Takacs (2009) argues that PPSA should be seen more as a compensation for not breaking the law than as an incentive to conservation, which is in any case obligatory.

SINAC is the public body responsible for directly administering Costa Rica's protected areas and for promoting and controlling conservation and sustainable natural resource (including forest) management in the entire national territory. It has police powers to the extent that it has the power to enter private property to carry out checks. The 1996 Forestry Law also gives SINAC responsibility for measuring forest cover. Within the PPSA and REDD+ SINAC's two main roles are: (i) monitoring and controlling deforestation and verifying that the owners of private forest have complied with their forest management plan; and (ii) mapping forest cover and preparing the forest inventory. 

PPSA will form the core of the country’s REDD+ programme, the third generation of incentives to reduce deforestation in Costa Rica (GOCR 2011). Under REDD+, Costa Rica aims to strengthen the range of institution involved in forest management, to increase the production and use of wood products and to recruit a further 342,000 Ha to PPSA (focused on inducing early regeneration in private land and Indigenous Reserves and on extra areas for protection of old growth forests but also including 72,000 Ha of new timber plantations and agroforestry systems). Approximately 20% of the total 108m tC02e that it expects to reduce will come from simulating the production and use of harvested wood products (GOCR 2013a). Costa Rica acknowledges in its ER-PIN that this will require it to make sustainable forestry management easier.

At the time of writing (December 2013) Costa Rica has not entered into a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) (FAO 2013). Costa Rica is an active participant in the Law Enforcement for Forests (LEAF) project, which is funded by NORAD and implemented by Interpol and the United Nations Environment Programme (NORAD 2013).

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Reference levels

Costa Rica began its Payments for Ecosystem Services Programme (PPSA) in 1997 with the aim of promoting forest conservation and reforestation. This was long before international negotiations on emissions reductions from avoided deforestation and Costa Rica did not first establish a reference level.

In its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) Costa Rica proposed using a projected reference level based on the period 2000-2005. Its Emissions Reduction Project Idea Note (ER-PIN) for the FCPF includes all the additional areas that Costa Rica will include in PPSA as part of REDD+ and includes preliminary calculations for a reference level based on this period (GOCR 2013a). The calculation is based on the following categorisations: (i) land use according to IPCC guidelines (2006); and (ii) land tenure type (which it refers to as “uniform strata”), namely public protected areas, private protected areas, indigenous territories and private property (GOCR 2013a). Land use change in the Guanacaste region in the Northwest is analysed separately to the rest of the country since it presents very different land use dynamics (heavily deforested before the 1980s but low land values and high levels of un-incentivised reforestation since).

This analysis highlights that although Costa Rica currently has net negative deforestation (FONAFIFO 2012), certain uniform strata still present significant levels of deforestation, for example a total of 11.3% between 2000 and 2005 for private old growth forest outside of Guanacaste (GOCR 2013a). According to these calculations, Costa Rica expects to avoid emissions and enhance carbon stocks by a total of 82.8 m tC through REDD+ between 2008 and 2020, including 29.5m tC through activities included in the ER-PIN during its 11 years of operation (2010-2020) (calculation based on p.34 GOCR 2013a).

The preliminary reference level in the ER-PIN was sufficient to secure a commitment to purchase credits from the FCPF’s Carbon Fund. However it is not accurate enough to produce certified credits. The ER-PIN therefore envisages producing a more accurate reference level, based on: (i) on-going work to revise and standardise Costa Rica’s historic series of maps of forest coverage. These have been prepared by a mixture of data from the National Meteorological Institute (IMN) and the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO), from 1980, 1990, 1997, 2000, 2005 and 2010 (FONAFIFO 2012). Unfortunately these have used different sensors (mainly Landsat and Landsat Thematic Mapper, orthophotos and, most recently by FONAFIFO in 2010, SPOT) and different methodologies, making current comparisons unreliable; and (ii) a new national forest inventory, Costa Rica’s first, which is being financed by GIZ through the REDD/CCAD programme. The forest inventory includes preparing a forest cover map using RapidEye images. This will be used to calibrate the chronological series of forest maps. Going forward, the Activity Data Technical Committee (made up of FONAFIFO, the IMN and the National System of Protected Areas (SINAC)) will coordinate the elaboration of single national land use maps.

Credits produced under the ER programme are only one of the three kinds of credits from avoided deforestation that Costa Rica plans to trade. Costa Rica considers its pre-2010 PPSA as REDD+ early activities and will certify these using the Voluntary Carbon Standard Jurisdiction Nested REDD+ (VCS- JNR) standard, which as of December 2013 has not yet been finalised. Costa Rica will produce VCS credits from the earliest date possible, currently stated in the ER-PIN as 2005 (GOCR 2013b). Additionally, Costa Rica plans to make forestry carbon credits tradable as Costa Rican Carbon Units (UCC) on the Costa Rican Domestic Voluntary Carbon Market (MDVCR), one of the key mechanisms to help Costa Rica meet its target of carbon neutrality by 2021.

In March 2013 the World Bank visited Costa Rica to review the ER-PIN. One of the requirements they made was that the reference period be extended from five years to ten (2000-2010). At the time of writing (December 2013), Costa Rica is in the process of working to establish a reference level and MRV methodology that will serve all three purposes (FCPF, VCS-JNR, MDVCR) and that will be compatible with the IPCC’s 2006 guidelines. This will be the subject of an FCPF-financed consultancy (under the R-PP) starting in January 2014. Costa Rica aims to submit an ER Project Document (ER-PD) in December 2014 including the final reference level.

Because of its small size, Costa Rica will develop a single national projected reference level, rather than subnational ones. Regional variation will be taken account of in two main ways: (i) analysing land use change in the Guanacaste region separately and (ii) the reference level will be calculated using spatially explicit modelling of deforestation drivers (GOCR 2013a). Costa Rica is working on its MRV methodology at the same time to ensure consistency between the two (GOCR 2013c).

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Costa Rica plans to carry out monitoring and reporting of its REDD+ activities on a five years cycle, with the first reporting covering 2010-2015 and the second period 2016-2020 (GOCR 2013c). At the time of writing (December 2013), Costa Rica is in the process of determining the combination of information and technology that it will employ to monitor activity data and emissions factors and report on its REDD+ activities. The process is guided by the National Forest Monitoring System Working Group (Sistema Nacional de Monitoreo de Bosques; SNMB), a working group under the REDD+ Interinstitutional Committee (Comisión Interinstitucional REDD+), which has met five times to agree actions. Just like the reference level, the  country’s MRV approach will be useful not just for the FCPF Emissions Reductions Programme, but also for Voluntary Carbon Standard Jurisdictional and Nested REDD+ (VCS-JNR) and the Costa Rican Domestic Carbon Market (MDVCR).

To measure activity data, Costa Rica will use remote sensors and GIS technology for forest cover and information on Harvested Wood Products (HWP) to measure carbon sequestration through their use. Within the SNMB, the Activity Data Technical Committee is coordinating the standardisation of the historic series of national forest cover maps. This will inform the choice of remote sensors used for MRV. Costa Rica’s REDD+ Readiness Preparation Proposal (R-PP) includes strengthening the Costa Rican College of Agricultural Engineers (CIAgro), which coordinates the registered forestry engineers (regentes forestales). The National System of Conservation Areas (Sistema Nacional de Areas de Conservación; SINAC) is also working on a strategy to involve indigenous peoples in monitoring forest cover within their territory (GOCR 2013c). This will provide field monitoring capacity to back-up the remote sensors. The National Forestry Office (Oficina Nacional Forestal; ONF), which represents the private forestry sector, will provide information of the production and use of HWP.

Data on emissions factors will come from the combination of a forest inventory, allometric equations and remote sensors. The National Forest Inventory Committee, made up of SINAC and the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO), is leading work on Costa Rica’s first national forest inventory, financed by GIZ through the REDD/CCAD programme. At the time of writing 500 permanent plots have been identified. Five field teams began work in the second semester of 2013 and aim to complete the inventory by mid-2014. As part of the forest inventory, Costa Rica is close to completing a 2012 forest cover map using RapidEye images. The National Forestry Inventory Committee will also oversee work on allometric equations, which will be led by the National University of Costa Rica. Costa Rica is seeking financing to acquire LiDAR imaging, both to calibrate satellite imagery when estimating carbon content for the reference level and for measuring forest degradation in the future (GOCR 2013c).

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Work on safeguards in Costa Rica began officially with a national workshop on the Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) in May 2011. The workshop identified four key risks: (i) issues relating to land tenure and overlapping land rights for indigenous communities and smallholders; (ii) limited access for communities to natural resources; (iii) the Payments for Ecosystem Services Programme as a benefit sharing mechanism; and (iv) lack of conditions for sustainable forest management. Costa Rica’s safeguards system will incorporate country-specific safeguards than evolve from this through the SESA process together with the Cancun safeguards. The country will manage the entire process in accordance with relevant World Bank safeguards (SECRETARIA REDD+ 2013).

Since the national workshop, the REDD+ Secretariat within the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) has led four further information dissemination workshops, three with blocks of Indigenous Territories (TI) and one with the agro-forestry sector (GOCR 2013c). For this to happen, each of those sectors had to reach a certain level of organisation, a process spearheaded by the Bribri and Cabecar Indigenous Network (RIBCA) for the Indigenous Territories and by the Coordinating Association of Indigenous and Community Agroforestry in Central America (ACICAFOC) and the National Forestry Union (UNAFOR) for agro-forestry producers.

Based on these meetings, in October 2013, the REDD+ Secretariat published a SESA Workplan, which includes a timeline for the SESA process: Final SESA Workplan by December 2013, national safeguards by July 2014, proposals for public policies by October 2014, the SESA report by December 2014 and the Social and Environmental Management Framework by July 2015.

The Workplan sets out the priority areas for SESA, which represent the evolution of the issues identified in the 2011 national workshop. These are: (i) integrating primary, secondary and regenerating forests with the indigenous world view; (ii) resolving land tenure issues and disputes in Indigenous Territories; (iii) a framework for the National System of Conservation Areas (SINAC) to work together with Indigenous Territories (a significant issue because of the extent of overlap between them and the absence of co-management schemes); (iv) specific schemes of Payment for Ecosystem Services Programmes for agro-forestry smallholders and for Indigenous Territories; and (v) participatory MRV by indigenous communities. The Workplan also identifies a series of consultancy contracts to recommend risk mitigating actions and policies (SECRETARIA REDD+ 2013).

UN-REDD has given targeted support to FONAFIFO to help it develop a Safeguards Information System (SIS), which FONAFIFO plans to have ready by April 2014 (GOCR 2013c).

The Indigenous Law of 1977 recognises indigenous communities’ right to their territory at the national level. Though this is not disputed in theory, in practice weak land governance has given rise to extensive problems with squatting and overlapping land rights (GFC 2009). At the international level, Costa Rica has ratified ILO convention 169 and voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the General Assembly in 2007. Costa Rica has been praised for its commitment to the consultation process with indigenous communities on REDD+, including by the Mesoamerican Alliance on Peoples and Forests ahead of nineteenth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Warsaw, 2013) (AMPB & PRISMA 2013).

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Gender Equality

Costa Rica’s ER-PIN (2013) does not give consideration to gender inequalities or women’s participation.

Costa Rica’s R-PP (2011) aims to guarantee women’s participation in REDD+ decision-making processes, however the document does not describe the mechanism by which this will be achieved.  Women’s organisations participated in meetings organised by the National Fund for Forest Finance (Fondo Nacional de Financiamiento Forestal, FONAFIFO) as part of the R-PP construction process. The R-PP emphasises the need to engage with indigenous communities, including women’s groups in the REDD+ design process.

The Costa Rican legislative framework demonstrates an effort to mainstream gender across several sectors. Costa Rica ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1984 and consequently implemented the Act Promoting the Social Equality of Women (Act 7142) in 1990, according to which women have equal rights to property ownership, and to land and housing when held within a marriage (Act 7142, Art. 7).

Reforms to the electoral code in 1996 require that women make up 40% of candidate and party structure places (Art. 59), and delegations of district, canton and provincial assemblies (Transitorio). The National Institute for Women was established in 1998 (Act 7801) to coordinate all national policy regarding gender equality and provide services that protect women’s human rights.

The Programme for the Regularisation of the Cadastre and the Property Registry (Programa de Regulación de Catastro Y Registro) places particular emphasis on women’s participation (Paragraphs 4.16-.18). As part of the programme the Bureau of Agricultural Development (IDA) will disaggregate data from the titles issued in rural areas by gender and will encourage joint tenure. Planned measures to promote women’s participation include an incorporation of a gender perspective into all community involvement programs and bulletins on tenure rights targeted specifically at women. Further, municipality- level training is required to develop methods that encourage women’s participation, and inform on women’s role in agricultural production and rural women’s issues.


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Content researched and written by Joe Kuper
Global Canopy Programme Consultant
Javier Fernández Vega
National Forestry Financing Fund