In February 2008, four countries made a public commitment to going carbon neutral; New Zealand, Norway, Iceland and Costa Rica. Of those, Costa Rica set the most ambitious target - carbon neutrality by 2021. Reaching such a goal by that date will make it the first country in the world to achieve carbon neutrality. Not bad for the only developing country on the list. Costa Rica is already ahead of the game on renewable energy sources, producing 80% of its electricity using hydroelectric dams, 5.3% from geothermal sources and 1.3% from wind power.
"If any country can do it, it's Costa Rica," said Sergio Musmanni, who is helping to lead the government's new national climate change strategy. "We have been at the forefront of the climate change issue for years. A large percentage of our electricity... already comes from renewable energy sources. And we are in the tropics. We don't have problems heating up our homes and buildings during the winter." - BBC
Costa Rica, the pioneer of eco-tourism, is also ahead of the game on land conservation with 30% of the country designated as national parks and reserves. Costa Rica has not had a great record on forest stewardship, however, with approximately 20,000 acres of land deforested each year. This commitment to rapidly achieving carbon neutrality may help remedy that with a portion of neutrality coming from carbon off-sets of emissions including reforestation schemes. The Costa Rican government planted more than 5 million trees last year and has set an ambitious 7 million tree planting goal for 2008. And in typical Costa Rican fashion, we are all invited to help - The Asis Foundation has launched a volunteer program called "Zero Carbon Volunteer" so that people around the world can come to Costa Rica and participate in the reforestation effort.
Most are pointing to the transportation sector as the greatest challenge to reaching their carbon neutrality target by 2021. Currently, Costa Rica's transportation sector is completely dependent on fossil fuels and the largest contributor in the country to greenhouse gas emissions. Raising fuel economy standards and moving toward plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will be key to reaching their goals, as will be investments in public mass transit.
According to an NRDC Climate Fact Sheet on Costa Rica (pdf):
By investing in sustainable domestic energy strategies, Costa Rica can meet its energy needs without fossil fuels-diverting US$1 billion annually in oil imports-and reduce global warming pollution. NRDC recommends four strategies:
- Increase energy efficiency in the electricity sector
- Raise fuel economy standards and adopt plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs)
- Encourage production of biomass for electricity and transportation fuels
- Increase the efficiency and use of public transport
Costa Rica has the right ambition for the times, and a jump start on most other countries, including the U.S., in terms of clean energy. As I said after visiting in 2007, if this is the third world, I don't want to be first!