Small Costa Rica thinking big on carbon

The small Central American nation of Costa Rica has launched one of the most ambitious decarbonization plans in the world. John Dyer reports.

Image credit: BelaMarie via Pixabay

“We will be an example to the world that it is possible to be a green and prosperous country,” said President Carlos Alvarado Quesada in a ceremony in San José on February 24, in a press release.

By 2050, the Central American country of 4.8 million people hopes to have a carbon footprint of zero. By 2035, their plan would reduce that carbon footprint to that of their forebears in the 1940s.

Clean transport, building efficiency and more

That would include a fleet of buses, taxis and other cargo transport powered by clean energy as well as 10 percent more bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles, said a government statement. All buildings would have improved energy standards. Waste will also be recycled and disposed in a manner that produces less methane. Highly efficient agriculture would be adopted.

Costa Rica is already an environmentally friendly country. Around 95 per cent of the Central American country’s electricity is generated emissions free, while forests cover more than half the land. Under the government’s plan, all of the country’s electricity would be generated sustainably. Forest would grow to cover 60 per cent of Costa Rican territory.

Moratorium on offshore oil is extended

On the day after announcing the plan, Alvarado also announced an extension of a current moratorium on oil exploration in Costa Rican waters through 2050. “The commitment to current and future generations is to keep our country free of activities that could threaten our ecological balance,” he said at a press conference.

Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat who was instrumental in securing adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015, said the plan would amount to a green economic stimulus package. The Paris agreements aims to curb emissions to prevent global temperatures from increasing by more than 2 degrees Celsius.

“The vision of decarbonizing the national economy is a country project that motivates us to innovation, creating jobs in favor of energy independence, a robust economy and clean cities for all citizens,” said Figueres. “Costa Rica takes a position of international leadership again.”

The country aims to build an electric train line, for example, that would connect neighborhoods in the capital, Reuters reported.

Economic growth hand-in-hand with carbon cuts

President Alvarado and others said they believed they could make the carbon cuts while still keeping economic growth at around 3 per cent. They didn’t expect the plan to shock the economy.

“Some people have misunderstood the President’s declarations because we don’t plan to ban the use of fossil fuels, we plan to phase them out through new policies and incentives so that eventually, down the road, they will be useless,” Minister of Environment and Energy Carlos Manuel Rodríguez told Vox in a statement.

Speaking to Reuters, University of Costa Rica Electrical Engineer Jairo Quirós cast doubt on whether the government could fulfill the plan, which he called “a little utopian”, without compromising growth. But he still supported its goals. “It’s good to be ambitious,” said Quirós.

Gore and others praise Costa Rica’s plan

Leaders in the UK and the Netherlands are discussing whether to aim for zero carbon emissions in 2050. Germany is seeking to decrease its emissions by 95 per cent by 2050 compared to 1990 levels but is likely to miss its targets.

World leaders praised the country for taking such a bold step.

“Decarbonizing the global economy to drastically reduce the pollution of global warming is absolutely essential to ensure that our civilization can survive and thrive,” said Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States who won a Nobel Peace Prize with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for their efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

“Congratulations Costa Rica,” said Gore. “You are showing the rest of the world that it is definitely possible to make the transition to a low carbon economy today.”

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