Costa Rica Lays Out Plan to Zero Out Carbon Emissions by 2050

A solar park in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
A solar park in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
Photo: Getty

Time to pack my bags and move to Costa Rica. The tiny Central American country is setting an example with a plan to fully decarbonize by 2050.

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President Carlos Alvarado officially signed the decree to decarbonize by mid-century on Sunday. On Monday, he followed it up by announcing that the country would extend its moratorium on oil exploration to 2050, too. The government has been extending this since moratorium 2002, so hopefully, it’ll continue the tradition after 2050 as well. In short? Costa Rica is doing what we all need to be doing.

Costa Rica’s has been working toward carbon neutrality for years last May, and previously had a goal of going carbon neutral by 2021. The new plan doesn’t mention this date anymore, but we finally have a road map that lays out how to achieve zero-net emissions. As the Guardian notes, that doesn’t end emissions entirely, but only allows what can be offset through the carbon reserves in the country’s forests. For what it’s worth, Costa Rica only emits about 12,000 kilotons worth of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The U.S., on the other hand, emits more than 12 million kilotons, per World Bank data.

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Costa Rica’s plan involves decarbonizing four sectors: transportation, industry, waste management, and agriculture. The country has set targets from now until 2050—like a zero-emission public transportation system by 2035, and an electrical grid entirely powered by renewables by 2030.

Part of its strategy includes a “just transition,” which works to ensure no one (especially workers in the fossil fuel sector and frontline communities) are left behind when moving toward a green economy.

Costa Rica’s incredible Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Costa Rica’s incredible Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Photo: AP

Make no mistake, though. This won’t be easy. Decarbonizing the transportation sector, which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, will be especially difficult. Plus, the fossil fuel industry supplies the country with essential tax income, reports the Guardian. The country must establish some sort of “green tax reform” to replace that revenue source.

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However, if anyone’s proved it possible, Costa Rica sure has. The Latin American country generated all of its electricity renewably for a full 300 days last year, marking the fourth year in a row that more than 98 percent of the country’s electricity came from renewables.

Climate change will hit this nation’s part of the world hard. (It’s no wonder Latin Americans are the most worried globally about the crisis.) Climate models paint the picture of an unpredictable Central America with more storms, floods, and droughts. In Costa Rica, rising sea levels may shrink the coastlines, and higher temperatures could hurt crop production, per the United Nations Development Program.

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Similar future scenarios exist for all of us around the world. But if we act on climate quickly, they’re not inevitable. Costa Rica, at least, is up to the challenge.

Earther has reached out to the country’s Energy and Environment Ministry for clarity on the changing timeline. We will update when we hear back.

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Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.

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DISCUSSION

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For what it’s worth, Costa Rica only emits about 12,000 kilotons worth of greenhouse gas emissions a year. The U.S., on the other hand, emits more than 12 million kilotons, per World Bank data.

US emissions from the world bank link are at around 6,343,000 kilotons (or 6,343 megatons or 6.3 million kilotons). China on the other hand is roughly 12 million kilotons. This is also 2012 GHG emissions data. A lot has happened since then. US total GHG emissions are at or below 6 million tons as of 2017.

Costa Rica electricity generation is chiefly hydro per cool 2015 visual from CR government: hydro, 72%; wind, 16%; geotherm, 9%; other, fraction.

A country has to be blessed with elevation gain/loss and plenty of water to implement that much hydro. A US state with awesome hydro resources is Washington, where the lion’s share is hydro for electricity generation. For example, last May, 84% of Washington electricity generation was hydro. For a big US state, it’s electricity is almost as green as Costa Rica’s.

Costa Rica could easily switch its transportation to EVs by making US retirees drive electric motor golf carts around. The country is lousy with US retirees.