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‘Green growth’ tops Costa Rican envoy’s agenda

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Costa Rican Ambassador Alvaro Cedeno Molinari says his mission here is to deliver his country’s message on green growth and renewable energy — and to develop what he describes as a green growth agenda between his country and Japan.

“My agenda is not a technical one. I’m not a biologist, I’m not an engineer. I’m simply enthusiastic about green growth and climate change, renewable energy, biotechnology, and eco-tourism,” Molinari said — an agenda he says his country has been pursuing for decades.

According to Molinari, renewable energy was initially developed in Costa Rica in 1955 as an opportunity to generate electricity from the abundant hydropower sources provided by the country’s extensive rivers, lakes and waterfalls.

Over the past three decades, Costa Rica has tripled its gross domestic product and doubled its forest coverage at the same time. It is also a “green country,” with 95 percent of its electricity generated from renewable sources, including hydrothermal and geothermal power. Almost 30 percent of its ecosystems are under legal protection, he said.

Molinari said he is trying to convince the Japanese government and businesses to collaborate with Costa Rica on research and development in renewable energy and sustainable development to take advantage of his nation’s rich biodiversity. Such cooperation, he said, will be essential as Costa Rica tries to achieve its goal of “carbon neutrality” — a state where net carbon dioxide emissions drop to zero — by 2021.

The ambassador is also trying to tie Costa Rican institutions with Japanese counterparts to establish a partnership in bio-resources or natural components that could be used to develop cosmetics, food or pharmaceuticals in Japan.

Molinari, 38, said one of his current interests is “bio-literacy.” It means, he said, “to be able to speak the language of life — what are the essential needs for our planet, not only to be sustainable, but to regenerate what has been lost?”

“It’s fifth-grade science. The cycle of water and carbon. Where the soil fertility comes from. Where clean air and water come from. This is very important for us,” he added.

Molinari was posted to Japan only weeks after the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, and he said the whole range of incidents “brought fear” to him.

“I knew it was something that was very serious, something that was going to take a long time to control. But at the same time, I felt it was my duty as a global citizen to be here, and to pay attention to what was happening, and to share whatever I could in the process (of recovering),” he said.

“It makes me wonder: What do the children understand? Not only the consequences. The consequences are very easy to see. But about the causes. It’s more about why it happened. The nuclear technology was not infallible. Today, we can’t tell children that nuclear energy is infallible — at least not in Japan,” he said.

He stressed the nuclear energy technology issue is of critical importance right now for both Japan and the world.

“Nuclear energy was a very good solution for the second half of the 20th century. Now we know that there are cleaner, cheaper, more renewable, safer sources of energy. The obvious question is — how do we move from nuclear to renewable?” Molinari said.

“The energy matrix in Japan relies very highly on nuclear energy. The issue is how much urgency you see in the need to change,” he said.

“I’m very concerned about Japanese children: What they know, what they think, what they feel about (the disaster). This is going to influence the rest of their lives. This is going to transform them into particular citizens, particular professionals, particular leaders of the country,” he said.

He said that the Japanese should remember how the country has valued nature in the past.

“I was very impressed by how nature is treated sacredly here. Japan is the only country in the world that has the Shinto practice. Shinto is essentially a praise for everything that is natural,” he stressed.

Molinari was born and grew up in San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital. After graduating from the University of Costa Rica with a degree in law, he obtained a master’s degree in peace studies and conflict transformation from a university in Norway. A polyglot, Molinari speaks eight languages: Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, German, Norwegian, Mandarin and some Japanese.

He worked for a decade at Costa Rica’s branch of Children’s International Summer Villages, a global nongovernmental organization that engages in training and execution of intercultural competence building and peace education for youths.

In 2006, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Trade as the chief of staff for the minister. Eighteen months later, when Costa Rica established diplomatic ties with China and opened an embassy in Beijing, he was posted there as commercial counselor.

After three years, he quit the ministry and moved to Australia, where he went on to obtain a master’s degree in public policy and management. Then came his second diplomatic mission — to his current position — in 2011.

Molinari’s initial exposure to Japan came at a very young age. When he was 5 years old, he said he became aware that his family’s car was made by a Japanese carmaker. Furthermore, the anime adaptation of the Swiss classic “Heidi” and the popular TV series “Ultraman” — both dubbed into Spanish — were his favorite TV programs.

“At 8, I played my first Nintendo game, and the following year, I got my first Sony radio,” he said.

He said that when he was 11 years old, his father, a business consultant, gave the young Molinari a task during summer vacation: Read a book about Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic Corp. “I was reading some very profound business and cultural elements about Japan,” he said.

Later on, he said he became interested in martial arts and took judo and karate lessons in Costa Rica.

In 2004, Molinari visited Japan for the first time as a volunteer at an intercultural competence building program for Asia-Pacific youths and adults held in Fukuoka.

Noting his impression of Japan at the time, he said he thought Japan was a place “where human civilization had reached its most remarkable manifestation in terms of peaceful coexistence.”

“I had the impression that this was the most peaceful place on Earth — in terms of how Japanese culture has managed to build up after the war,” he said.

Molinari lives in Tokyo with his wife, who is a third-generation Brazilian-Japanese, and travels with her about once a month to various parts of Japan, including to Kitakyushu, where his wife’s family has its roots.

“I try to enjoy every day in Japan — as long as this beautiful adventure lasts,” the ambassador said with a smile.

  • Puthut J. Buntolo

    What an ambassador he is…
    A ‘green-ambassador’