Focus: Decarbonization 2050

Decarbonization at its Core

Apr. 28, 2019

Already a leader in the fight against climate change and in the promotion of clean energy sources, Costa Rica is further strengthening its efforts toward becoming carbon neutral by 2021 and goes further by aiming for the decarbonization of its economy in the present century.

in August 2018, at his inauguration speech, president Carlos Alvarado Quesada made sure to place climate change prevention at the top of his agenda. He also made sure to arrive at the event in a hydrogen-powered bus, to make his point even clearer. In his own words, “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," adding “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."

Alvarado went on to set the deadline for making the country's economy carbon neutral to 2021, an ambitious goal of reducing the country's CO2 emissions to a level in which the planet can sustainably compensate for. The move adds to the country's Paris Climate Agreement commitment, signed in 2015, to effectively decarbonize its economy over the extent of this century. Costa Rica committed to bring carbon emissions to 1.73 tons CO2 per capita in 2030, 1.19 tons CO2 per capita in 2050, and 0.27 tons of CO2 per capita by 2100.

While the Central American nation has long been a champion of environmental stewardship, its transport sector, which accounts for two-thirds of the country's CO2 emissions, continues to represent a complex challenge on the road to carbon neutrality. Furthermore, despite the president's inauguration suggestion, there are no policies in place or under development to actually ban the use of fossil fuels in Costa Rica. What the government has, so far, proposed is a lift on taxes on electric cars to promote its use and progressively phase out gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles. Many Costa Ricans have blamed the excessive cost of electric cars as a reason for continuing to use fossil fuel-powered cars. The insufficiencies of the national public transportation network have also prompted a strong rise in the personal vehicle market in Costa Rica in recent years, which needs to be addressed if these climate goals are to be attained.

The government has put forward plans to electrify much of its transportation network and use alternative fuels like hydrogen to power buses and other vehicles. It will also be looking to expand its power hub network to charge electric cars.
Currently, four countries have pledged to become carbon neutral sometime by mid-century. In that sense, Costa Rica will be competing with New Zealand, Norway, and Iceland for the honor of being the first carbon-neutral country in the world. The Central American nation has an important lead on its competitors as most of the country's energy production already comes from renewable and clean sources. 2018 marked yet another record in that regard as the country managed to power itself exclusively from renewable sources for 300 days of the year. According to the Costa Rican Institute of Electricity, the country's energy mix generates 99% of its electricity from green sources, including hydropower (78%), wind (10%), geothermal energy (10%), biomass (1%), and solar (1%).

Beyond transportation, the agricultural sector represents another challenge for the country's green drive. The industry currently accounts for around 37% of the country's emissions, particularly due to the use of chemical fertilizers and methane gas coming from animal waste. Already some Costa Rican farmers are trying to change their ways, using more natural and organic options to fertilize their crops. In 2011, coffee producing cooperative Coopedota made an impressive move by becoming the world's first certified coffee producer to be carbon neutral. Among other things, Coopedota achieved this important status by reducing water and energy consumption and by generating power from organic material.

The Ministry of Environment and Energy has pledged to increase forest cover, employing better land management strategies and utilizing carbon sequestration technologies to aid in the country's green drive. Over the last 30 years, Costa Rica has already achieved great success in increasing the land forest cover from less than 30% in the 1980s to 54% today.