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  • Nina Sharpe

Costa Rica offers decarbonisation inspiration

In a quest to decarbonise societies in the fight against climate change, it can be tempting to keep looking at countries such as the UK and US for inspiration.

However, you may find that some of the greatest encouragement in what can seem like a losing battle comes from a small Central American country, namely Costa Rica.

You may have read about the UK’s 2019 carbon neutrality legislation and how it was a world-first. It may have been the first, but the UK was not the only country to get serious about decarbonisation that year.

2019 also saw Costa Rica commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050—and, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation report, the country’s mission could result in $41bn in economic benefits over the next 30 years.

Net-zero carbon emissions mean that the country won’t produce more carbon emissions than it can offset.

A multifaceted approach

The foundation’s article on Costa Rica’s decarbonisation efforts referred to the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IADB) report on the country and its mission.

According to the IADB, the country isn’t viewing its 2050 net-zero goal as an addendum nor as an optional extra with regard to its other goals.

Instead, the quest to decarbonise is an essential part of Costa Rica’s long-term national development plan.

The quest itself has seen the country adopt several approaches, one of which is to encourage transport.

Other approaches include the use of renewable energy sources, buildings that are energy efficient, the promotion of ecotourism and sustainable farming, and deforestation efforts.

According to President Carlos Alvarado, the benefits of this multifaceted approach are not limited to the climate change battle and the expected $41bn in economic benefits.

The president explained that it could result in a healthier populace, as it would reduce the effects of air pollution.

Promoting greener transport

What you may find even more surprising than Costa Rica’s multifaceted approach to decarbonisation is that campaigns for green transport began more than a decade ago.

The country has long recognised that the mission to reduce carbon emissions doesn’t only revolve around electricity production.

Transport and its various related industries play a significant role in producing carbon emissions, which means that finding solutions is imperative.

This is not without challenges in a country that’s also known for congestion and traffic jams, and where, according to first lady Claudia Dobles, many people aspire to own their own vehicle.

Although there was some concern that such aspirations may intensify as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, the number of Costa Ricans who’ve taken up cycling essentially allayed those concerns.

Electric vehicles – another solution

As important as bicycles, cycling routes, and green belts with cycling and pedestrian routes are, those transport options can’t fully replace vehicles.

Costa Rica has the third highest rate of car ownership in Latin America, and San José rush-hour commute times have increased by more than 40% since 2015. The notoriously unreliable and inefficient bus service compounds the state of road traffic.

To tackle the issue, the government is not only promoting the use of green transport such as electric vehicles, it also plans to build an electric rail system.

Considering more than 98% of the energy produced in the country is renewable, the emphasis on electric vehicles is not just wishful thinking.

It may be difficult to implement some of Costa Rica’s solutions in our own circumstances until the government puts the correct supports in place.

Until then, however, the country can offer encouragement, inspiration, and the assurance that change is possible.

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