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Abstract: While the global focus on climate change may substantially increase attention and funding for sustainable development initiatives in general, it may also create newfound conflicts among divergent conservation and development agendas. For instance, climate change appears to be altering the terms of debate concerning the costs and benefits of constructing large dams in ways that remain little analyzed. This issue can be observed in Costa Rica, which recently initiated a major new wave of dam-building, including a large project on the Río Pacuare—an important ecotourism destination and site of substantial biodiversity—in the interest of expanding the capacity of a sector supplying nearly 80% of the nation’s power and widely considered a “clean,” renewable energy source. In response to growing climate change concern, the Costa Rican government has vowed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2021 and reducing emissions is a key component of this plan. On the other hand, ecotourism operators contest the governments’ assertions of the proposed dam’s importance by emphasizing the economic and conservation benefits of a free-flowing river via ecotourism. An increasing critique of ecotourism as a conservation strategy, however, concerns its contribution to climate change through air travel. Thus, in the conflict over the Pacuare River, different models of both conservation and development appear to collide, with biodiversity and climate change on the one hand, and modern and postmodern forms of capitalist development on the other, all competing to define appropriate resource use in the valley.

Peace & Conflict Review, Volume 5, Issue 1