By Marcelo Teixeira
SAO PAULO, March 7 (Reuters) - Costa Rica's leading opposition group, PAC, expected to win a four-year presidential term next month, will drop the country's commitment to carbon neutrality by 2021, an official said.
The leftist group's candidate, Luis Guillermo Solis, should be elected president in an April 6 runoff vote after ruling party candidate Johnny Araya announced on Wednesday that he was abandoning the campaign.
"We don't think it would be possible to reach carbon neutrality by 2021, because the most important tasks to reduce emissions in the country are yet to be done," Patricia Madrigal, the Citizens' Action Party environmental adviser, told Reuters this week.
She said changes in the transport and energy sectors, to increase fuel efficiency and renewables production, are necessary because the nation lacks the means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in key sectors by the target date.
Madrigal said the PAC has no intention of abandoning the carbon neutrality goal, nor other climate policies, but believes a more realistic year to reach the target would be around 2025 if reforms are carried out as planned.
Costa Rica announced in 2009 the intention to become the world's first carbon neutral country by 2021. The decision and policies adopted to reach the target were praised by environmental groups and multilateral organizations dealing with climate change.
The Central American country has managed a successful reforestation plan using a system that pays landowners for protecting forests, funded by a carbon tax on fossil fuels.
It increased forest cover from around 20 percent of the total area in the 1980s to about 50 percent currently.
The restoration of forest cover is generating carbon credits, which Costa Rica intends to use to offset part of its emissions.
The government also convinced several companies to neutralize emissions. It set a voluntary carbon market and a bank to assist businesses to buy offsets.
There was no mention, however, of carbon neutrality in a document released by the group with environmental guidelines for a possible PAC government.
The current government of Laura Chinchilla recognizes the 2021 commitment is challenging, but thinks it is a mistake to postpone it.
"We knew since the beginning it would be difficult, but it is something possible to be done," said William Alpizar, the country's climate head.
According to him, it was easier to reduce emissions in agriculture and forestry, but much more complex to do it in the transport area, which accounts for almost 70 percent of all emissions related to energy use.
Alpizar says the country would need to reduce around 5 million tonnes of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2021 to be carbon neutral.
Only a couple of other countries have pledged to neutralize emissions, but have set very distant target dates. (Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Dan Grebler)