Carbon neutrality in Costa Rica by 2021?

Costa Rica News – reporting by Marcelo Teixeira (Reuters); editing by Dan Grebler (Reuters); first paragraph added by Dan Stevens; updates provided by Martin Mowforth.

Most of us living in Costa Rica realised that the goal of Costa Rica obtaining carbon neutrality by the year 2021 was a goal that was not going to be attained. The general idea of promoting businesses to be environmentally friendly and offset their carbon credits is a good one, but the overall goal of carbon neutrality in Costa Rica was a long way off. Luis Guillermo Solis who was elected President earlier this year sees the need to adjust this goal.

In April, Costa Rica’s PAC (Citizens’ Action Party), won a four-year presidential term, and dropped the country’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2021. “We don’t think it would be possible to reach carbon neutrality by 2021, because the most important tasks to reduce emissions in the country are yet to be done,” Patricia Madrigal, the Citizens’ Action Party environmental adviser, told Reuters in March.

She said changes in the transport and energy sectors, to increase fuel efficiency and renewables production, are necessary because the nation lacks the means to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in key sectors by the target date. Madrigal said the PAC has no intention of abandoning the carbon neutrality goal, nor other climate policies, but believes a more realistic year to reach the target would be around 2025 if reforms are carried out as planned.

Costa Rica announced in 2009 the intention to become the world’s first carbon neutral country by 2021. The decision and policies adopted to reach the target were praised by environmental groups and multilateral organisations dealing with climate change. The Central American country has managed a successful reforestation plan using a system that pays landowners for protecting forests, funded by a carbon tax on fossil fuels. It increased forest cover from around 20 percent of the total area in the 1980s to about 50 percent currently, although ENCA’s Martin Mowforth questions how much of this increased proportion was achieved through the creation of monoculture plantation forests which are not good for biodiversity.

The restoration of forest cover is generating carbon credits, which Costa Rica intends to use to offset part of its emissions. The government also convinced several companies to neutralise emissions. It set a voluntary carbon market and a bank to assist businesses to buy offsets.

There was no mention, however, of carbon neutrality in a document released by the group with environmental guidelines for a PAC government. The previous government of Laura Chinchilla recognised the 2021 commitment as challenging, but believed it to be a mistake to postpone it. “We knew since the beginning it would be difficult, but it is something possible to be done,” said William Alpizar, the country’s climate head.

According to Alpizar, it was easier to reduce emissions in agriculture and forestry, but much more complex to do it in the transport area, which accounts for almost 70 percent of all emissions related to energy use. He said the country would need to reduce around 5 million metric tons of CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) by 2021 to be carbon neutral. Only a couple of other countries have pledged to neutralise emissions, but have set very distant target dates.