Global Environment Facility (GEF) supports Costa Rica’s transition to an urban green economy

By Martin Mowforth

Key words: Global Environment Facility (GEF); Costa Rica; Greater Metropolitan Area; greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; decarbonisation; reforestation; urban green economy; electric train network; bicycle lanes; walkways.


The Global Environment Facility (GEF) was set up in 1990 by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The 1992 Rio Earth Summit offered the GEF as a mechanism to address the planet’s most pressing environmental problems. Through its Small Grants Programme, the GEF has provided support to more than 26,000 civil society and community initiatives in 135 countries.

Although this article reports on a Costa Rican project which would find few detractors, it is noteworthy that the GEF is not without its critics who point out that it is a means by which the global north can profit from the supposedly global problems experienced in the global south. These criticisms are summarised by Martin Mowforth in the article which follows this one in the list of this month’s additions to The Violence of Development website (May 2022).

In March 2022 the GEF took the decision to invest in the project ‘Transitioning to an urban green economy and delivering global environmental benefits’, led by the Costa Rican Ministry of Environment and Energy and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Organisation for Tropical Studies, an international organisation with a base in Costa Rica.

The project aims at decarbonising the Greater Metropolitan Area of Costa Rica’s capital city, San José, by providing $10.3 million (US dollars) to invest in the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generated by the city. The investment will go towards the improvement of public transport, the greening of approximately 2,000 hectares of land and the implementation of an integrated urban planning strategy.

Expanding the electric train network was one of former President Alvarado’s stated aims and although he has now been replaced by Rodrigo Chaves (April 2022 election) it is likely that some of the GEF funds will be used to continue the work which had already been started on this programme.

Other transport improvements stemming from the initiative will include the construction of 8 km of bicycle lanes, 3 km of shared paths and pedestrian walkways and 20 km of green sidewalks with improved access.

Visitors to and residents of Costa Rican cities will be aware of the urgent need to improve the transport systems in the country’s cities most of which are known for their poor roads and traffic congestion.

An important part of the GEF-funded programme relates to reforestation which is expected to result in the planting of 1,000 trees per hectare and the capture of 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide. This part of the initiative will include the restoration of damaged ecosystems and the renovation of various landscapes.

Costa Rica has a National Decarbonisation Plan one of whose major aims is to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by the year 2050.



GEF, 24.03.22, ‘News from the GEF: Costa Rica aims to transition towards an urban green economy with GEF support’,

El Economista, 24.03.22, ‘Costa Rica recibirá del GEF $10.3 millones para descarbonización’.

Ileana Fernández, 26.03.22, ‘Costa Rica will receive $10.3 million to decarbonize the Greater Metropolitan Area’, The Tico Times, San José.