It may sound trite, but there's just one word that comes to mind when you step into the cloud forests and canopies of Costa Rica: enchantment. This is the habitat of reptiles of every kind, including the brilliantly colored red-eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas), and birds of unimaginable colors. It's where orchids dangle amid the tropical foliage, sloths sway from tree limbs, monkeys play in the trees, and immeasurable waterfalls abound.
For the millions of travelers who visit Costa Rica every year, this natural beauty is a marvel. But to Ricardo Ulate, Policy Advisor for Conservation International's (CI) Center for Conservation and Government and a member of CI's Climate Change Team, Costa Rica is something else. It's home.
And that, more than anything, makes it a place worth saving for generations to come.
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Motivated by a desire to "contribute to a better world," Ricardo uses his years of experience in conservation to help shape critical policies — both in Costa Rica and on a global scale. His work spans areas such as climate policy, fresh water, and environmental services, and it plays a key role in contributing to the development of CI's long-term policy strategy.
Yet Ricardo knows that CI can't do everything itself. In fact, he says, dialogue on the environment must be effective on an international scale "to guarantee a better planet for my family and my country."
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UNFCCC COP 16: Supporting Costa Rican Delegation and More
Lately, such international dialogue has been high on Ricardo's priority list. His focus has been the 16th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is taking place right around the corner from Costa Rica in Cancun, Mexico. Costa Rica has played a leadership role in protecting the natural world for the benefit of humanity, giving people like Ricardo a chance to mold the international climate process.
Ricardo says he has approached the conference with realistic expectations, but he is excited to work toward the main objective of the UNFCCC — "a legally binding agreement [on climate change] as soon as possible." That's not expected in 2010, but world leaders have a chance to put the negotiations on track so that a binding agreement can be reached as soon as 2011.
This year, Ricardo says, "Great progress can be achieved at the conference in teaching and better understanding of countries' positions."
In Cancun, Ricardo will use his skills working with government to advance just that kind of understanding. He expects to contribute advice to the delegations of multiple countries — in particular, those where CI has a presence. He will also continue to provide support to the Costa Rican delegation, particularly on REDD+ — a carbon emissions trading program that enables nations to keep their forests in exchange for carbon credits.
Ricardo believes CI has come to Cancun prepared to move policy forward while also contributing services and knowledge to various delegations. "CI will have quite the professional team of people from the field and headquarters that can support countries to better understand the current status of negotiations and potential developments," he says.
The Experience to Put a Dent in Climate Change
That professional team includes Ricardo, who brings to the table years of experience working in negotiations and policymaking — all of which will prove essential to reaching goals at COP 16 and beyond.
Ricardo was previously a member of the Ministry of Environment and Energy in Costa Rica, serving as Director of International Affairs. There, he led high-level political processes, such as Costa Rica's National Environmental Strategy as well as the Payment for Ecosystem Services Program, a mechanism that compensates landowners for keeping forests intact. He also established the National System for Conservation Areas and "Peace for Nature," an initiative led by the Costa Rican president's office that involves an ambitious goal to implement a carbon-neutral economy by 2021.
With CI, Ricardo has continued to support Costa Rica in its international effort to move REDD+ forward. He has been involved from the start with the Coalition for Rainforest Nations, a collaboration meant to reconcile forest stewardship with economic development, as well as the REDD+ Partnership, a group of organizations looking to implement REDD+ worldwide.
Living the Simple Life: Personal Conservation Efforts
Ricardo's desire to make a difference is evident not only through his policy work, but also in his personal efforts. Ricardo proudly demonstrates and educates friends on how an individual's actions can shape conservation efforts. He joyfully tells friends about the benefits of the "simple life."
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As a Costa Rican land owner, Ricardo has seen firsthand how his choices can drastically alter the environment around him. "I purchased a piece of land in Costa Rica which was devoted to cattle ranching," he says. "After two years, just by walking around the grassland, I realized how fast the soil was being eroded and immediately decided to stop raising cattle and started to reforest the farm. It took me three years to complete the task, but now I feel really happy: no more erosion, no more water polluted and a lot of fruits, birds and other animals in the surroundings!"
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Ricardo's involvement in conservation policymaking stems from his belief that "we cannot just wait for the government to do everything." He emphasizes that in order to reach conservation goals, it is imperative that dialogue and understanding come from everyone. His continued motivation is a "two-folded aim to continue providing for my own well-being while contributing to a better future for all."