Costa Rica carbon neutrality: Ambitious new climate policy.
Costa Rica’s new president, 38-year-old former journalist Carlos Alvarado, recently announced a plan to make his country the first carbon-neutral nation in the world by 2021, the 200th anniversary of its independence.
“Decarbonization is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” Alvarado said in May in his inauguration speech. ”We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”
Many news outlets interpreted this as a decision to ban fossil fuels.
But these stories are misleading.
Costa Rica does not have a ban because it does not have a law restricting the use of fossil fuels, nor does it plan to. But it did just ramp up its ambition in reducing its contribution to climate change.
“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,” Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy Carlos Manuel Rodríguez told me in an email.
A goal of carbon neutrality allows for coal, oil, and gasoline combustion, provided that their greenhouse gas emissions are offset elsewhere. Those offsets can come from planting forests, employing better land management, or perhaps someday even pulling carbon dioxide straight from the air.
But by aiming for carbon neutrality by 2021, the tiny Central American country is signaling it wants to beat larger, wealthier countries to environmental glory. The United Kingdom is weighing going to zero net emissions by 2050. The Netherlands is considering a similar goal. Germany is hoping to reduce its emissions 95 percent but is on track to miss its 2020 targets.
Costa Rica’s climate change targets are ambitious, aggressive, and difficult
Home to 4.8 million people, Costa Rica has long punched above its weight on climate change policy and action, and has produced many leaders who’ve promoted aggressive, progressive environmental policies on the international stage.