How the UNDP Country Office is helping Costa Rica’s COVID-19 response


COVID-19 is a crisis that requires us to respond to the immediate challenge and then build back better in the recovery phase. UNDP has worked out a detailed plan for response and recovery, harnessing nature’s power to accelerate progress towards achieving biodiversity and climate goals and the SDGs. UNDP's Country Office in Costa Rica is making sure that they are right at the heart of the situation. In this blog, Resident Representative Jose Vicente Troya Rodriguez sets out how the Nature, Climate and Energy (NCE) team is helping them to develop the best possible solutions.

In a single phrase, Mainstreaming Decarbonization and Transitioning to a Green Economy into National Recovery Strategies describes what we are doing in all our work related to COVID-19 Response and Recovery. Our framework harnesses the pursuit of gender equality and effective women´s empowerment to power this transition.

Our approach is centred on four themes:


  • Using our committed resources to build back better:

The NCE portfolio in Costa Rica has historically represented between 80-90% of annual Country Office delivery.  As NCE is the lion’s share of the budget, we reframed our entire Country Office Programme Strategy for the 2020-2022 period to ensure, as an internal programmatic logic, that all actions were in some way contributing to the response. We did not change our overall plans, rather we thought deeply about everything we do and how that could be part of the solution.

Our approach has positioned UNDP as a lead partner to facilitate multi-stakeholder collaborative action to support the design and implementation of public policies that accelerate recovery from the impacts of COVID19 in the transition to an inclusive green and blue economy.

The NCE team helped frame and helped lead the entire Programme strategy modification to reflect this aim of Mainstreaming Decarbonization and Transitioning to a Green Economy into National Recovery Strategies.

In Costa Rica, like in all Country Offices, we have an interdisciplinary team of people keen to support the recovery and get behind the objective of a transition to a green decarbonized economy. In our Country Office we have achieved a change in mindsets - a psychological permission for all our team to go the extra mile to make our work useful for the national response.


The second theme takes the opportunity of COVID-19 to plan a different future:

  • Take advantage of the opportunity the crisis brings to raise awareness about the implications of government reliance on income from fossil fuel consumption.

UNDP leads the UN’s country socio-economic impact assessment and response. Each Country Office has been commissioned to develop a rapid economic impact assessment of COVID-19 and policy recommendations.

We produced this in house, with strong involvement from senior management and program officers, as well as very useful feedback from the Office of UNDP´s Chief Economist in LAC. In this way the NCE team could better position strategic messages like the need for decarbonization and the transition to a green economy.

Our COVID economic Impact assessment has one striking finding that I am sure is shared by many other countries.

Currently 21% of our government’s income depends on fossil fuel consumption and prices.

The reduction in oil demand translates into a huge blow to the governments capacity to respond to COVID, and to the fiscal vulnerability the country has to future shocks.

This reality in Costa Rica and elsewhere is an opportunity for UNDP to help accelerate the transition away from carbon-based economies and government revenues which rely on them.

So, included as part of the recommendations of our study, was that for countries to recover better they must transition away from reliance on fossil fuels and the revenues from them. The way to do this is contained in our next theme.


Our third theme is to:

  • Involve NCE teams in the National Macroeconomic Policy and National Planning discussions for Recovery

In Costa Rica we have a long-standing involvement of the NCE portfolio in these discussions. First this was through the BIOFIN project that has identified specific financial gaps to implement National Biodiversity Strategies. Now we are finalizing the design of our largest Global Environment Facility project ever: Transitioning to an urban green economy and delivering global environmental benefits.

As the name indicates, this is our most ambitious project so far.

We want to incorporate the “polluter pays” principle in legislation and fiscal policy, and this is the key to replacing the government revenue dependent on fossil fuel consumption.

The Country Office is taking advantage of the networks of the NCE team, and the networks the NCE projects provide, to mature these ideas and reach the agreements needed for this transition to a green economy.

Some examples include:

  • modifying the way cars are taxed so there is an incentive to shift to greener alternatives;
  • a law taxing plastic to generate a green fund for transformation of the domestic plastics industry into a circular economy providing funding for community based coastal and river cleaning campaigns;
  • the elimination of tax exemptions for agrochemicals to increase funds for government and helping shift towards sustainable food production.
  • Modifying water fees to include the cost of nature-based adaptation solutions to build resilience to future droughts.

COVID-19 response is an urgent priority for government. The fact that in just 6 months we can provide government with resources to fund the economic modelling of potential new policies,  and help to communicate the strategic necessity for these to be approved and become legislation, means that we are more relevant  than ever for macroeconomic policy and development planning reform.


Our fourth theme builds the argument for a green transition even further:

  • Applying the SDG lens to bring social and gender benefits to the fore

By bringing an SDG lens to Transitioning to a Green Economy into National Recovery Strategies, we not only emphasize the economic and environmental advantages of decarbonization, but also the social implications and benefits. Taking advantage of the team of gender specialists the Nature Climate and Energy portfolio provides to our Country Office, we have made significant contributions to gender equality in the workforce by advancing a gender equality certification program for companies. We have also developed internal gender policies with the National Water Authority and Ministries of Environment and of Agriculture.  This gives us legitimacy and gravitas within macroeconomic policy and development planning discussions, to remind decision makers that decarbonization must be done leaving no one behind, specially women.

By focusing on our four themes, UNDP in Costa Rica is making a real difference to the effectiveness of the response and grasping the opportunity for a green recovery.  It is often said that in sustainability the problems are global, but the solutions are local, and by bringing together the global skills of the NCE team with the local understanding and experience of the Country Office we are maximizing the benefit that we can give.


Source: UNDP Costa Rica