Towards Resilient Infrastructure in Costa Rica

La Guardia Bridge in Guancaste (2019) - an example of how infrastructure can become climate resilient. Photo: GIZ Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, the impacts of climate change are becoming more regular and noticeable. Tropical storms are hitting the country more and more frequently, leaving behind serious damage to roads, bridges and other parts of the infrastructure. The IKI project "Climate Services for Infrastructure Investments" (CSI) supports the government in developing strategies for adapting to climate change and making the infrastructure more resilient. In an interview, Andrea Meza Murillo, Minister of the Environment in Costa Rica, talks about the challenges that climate change poses for securing infrastructure and about the work of the CSI project. 

Andrea Meza Murillo: Costa Rica is located in one of the most vulnerable regions to the impacts of climate change globally. It is already a reality that many producers and cities experience. I believe this has enabled an openness within the public institutions to recognize the importance of climate-proofing the infrastructure.

It is interesting that entities such as the General Comptroller of the Republic are reflecting upon the impacts of such events on our finances and the shock that, not only hurricanes but even storms may pose. This fiscal pressure reflected whenever a crucial infrastructure is destroyed, is a key element, which is driving the process of rebuilding and analyzing climate proofing infrastructure as key elements within an adaptation policy. 

I think there is a clear articulated need to act, to start climate-proofing our infrastructure, and that it is an opportune moment as there is institutional openness and willingness at the central and sectoral levels. 

What is the role of the "climate risk assessment protocol" in making Costa Rica´s infrastructure more resilient to climate change?

The experience with the CSI project of the German cooperation has been very interesting at the country level. This project allowed us to bring a tool, which the country had been piloting in different cases. This enabled us to cluster stakeholders related to the road and bridge infrastructure sectors and have a deeper conversation with the engineers, because we do not always have the opportunity to have this kind of conversations. This further allowed us to better understand what it is that an engineer needs to climate-proof the infrastructure, which type of information they need and should be generated by a meteorological institute. In brief, it enabled us to understand the needs from the demand side. 

The experience of linking those necessities, the supply of information with the demand, has been very important because it allows us to generate information that can be used in a more strategic process associated with climate-proofing infrastructure. In that sense, together with the project, we have made progress in generating capacities along our hydrometeorological institute (IMN). However, our country still has some important gaps, which we have been able to document and they will serve as roadmap to move forward in the context of generating useful information for decision-making, as well as for climate proofing infrastructure.

How do you see the role of climate services in achieving Costa Rica´s Adaptation Objectives? 

We, as a country, have a national adaptation policy. And the CSI Project brought an aggregate value. We have an axis associated with infrastructure, however we needed to understand how basic data, for instance from hydrometeorological estimations, are key to take adequate adaptation decisions to climate-proof infrastructure. That has been one of the critical contributions of CSI to the Costa Rican context, to address the questions: How do we generate climate information? On what scale for the different users? What are the elements of that information? What is the baseline for that data? And how can we facilitate this in the decision-making context related to climate proofing infrastructure? 

What´s the future of resilient infrastructure in Costa Rica?

The project has also allowed us to reflect about the importance of establishing regulations. At the country level, we have been successful in making infrastructure resilient to extreme hydrometeorological events. I believe the protocol is an important first step. Now, what is next, is to move forward in institutionalizing the tools, whether by making changes in the construction code or creating specific construction regulations, but the truth being said, the project has left the table laid to take relevant actions in that line.

Note: Andrea Meza has been Costa Rican Minister of the Environment since August 2020. The Ministry of Environment of Costa Rica conducted the interview in November 2020. Click here to watch the video.