by Chris Moss, The Telegraph, May 20, 2019
Long admired as the most eco-conscious nation in the Americas, Costa Rica upped the sustainable tourism ante last week when it announced aims to achieve zero emissions by 2050.
At 38, President Carlos Alvarado is one of the world’s youngest heads of state. During his inauguration speech in 2018, he pledged to decarbonise and embraced the “titanic and beautiful task” of abolishing fossil fuels.
“Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation, and Costa Rica must be among the first countries in the world to achieve it, if not the first,” he said.
The Paris Agreement, which binds countries to keep global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius, comes into force in 2020. Alvarado says Costa Rica must demonstrate tangible successes as a prelude to the following year’s celebrations of two centuries of Costa Rican Independence.
“For the  bicentennial we have an ethical duty to lead the world, as we have done in the past,” he declared. “We must be agile and innovative. We are called to protect ecosystems and protect biodiversity.”
Now the new National Decarbonisation Plan outlines a road map to achieve zero carbon emissions in 31 years.
The ambitious scheme features ten focus areas with specific goals, broken down into four key sectors: transport and sustainable mobility; energy, green building and industry; integrated waste management; and agriculture, land use change and nature-based solutions.
Tourism, a minor ministerial function in many Latin American republics, has long been a presidential matter in Costa Rica. For some 35 years, the country has carefully managed tourism through public-private eco-minded partnerships that avoid the consumer-oriented luxury ghettos and all-inclusive resorts that are ubiquitous elsewhere in the Caribbean and Central America.
Alvarado committed to ever more considered management of Costa Rica’s national parks, which make up an estimated 25 per cent of the entire country. Costa Rica boasts an impressive five per cent of the world’s biodiversity and boasts a very low rate of deforestation; forests account for just over half of its territory.
In an interview dedicated to sustainable tourism, the president explained: “For the past three decades, public management has promoted strategies that have helped to maintain our tourism model driven by three factors: sustainability, innovation and inclusiveness.
“Ever since, the Costa Rica Tourism Board has promoted Costa Rica [as a destination] suitable for travellers who are driven by nature, biodiversity, educational trips, well-being, comfort, outdoor activities, ecotourism trips, adventure and sports.
“The country has not focused on attracting any type of tourist but those niche markets that are able to recognise the differences and the quality of experience offered by the destination. The key to the strategy has been that it is not, so to speak, a destination that adapts to the wishes of the demand, but rather seeks a demand that can adapt to the conditions that the country can offer.”
Sustainable tourism is a key component of the planned low-carbon economy. Costa Rica’s plentiful supplies of both hydropower and geothermal mean that almost all of its electricity is renewable. In 2017, the country went 300 days without using fossil fuels for its electricity.
The new plan establishes that by 2015 100 per cent of the country will have solutions for the collection, separation, reuse and disposal of waste and that all public transport will be zero emissions.
“This is a change in our social dynamic and our economy,” says first lady Claudia Dobles, an architect, responsible for the country’s urban regeneration programme.
“By 2050 our urban and rural landscape is going to look very different, with nicer towns... where the car will no longer be king.”
While rail has been almost abandoned in far larger, wealthier Latin American nations, Costa Rica plans to build an electric network serving the San José metropolitan area, and to modernise the bus network.
In some respects, the government is catching up with best practices in the private sector. Costa Rican hoteliers basically invented the eco-lodge. Local beer company FIFCO Costa Rica was the first Latin American company to receive the certification “Zero Waste to Landfill”.
“We have the responsibility to speak loud and clear to the entire world,” says Alvarado. “To tell them that we – the most vulnerable countries to climate change – require that necessary decisions must be made to preserve our integrity. All countries are invited to work together towards a healthy and sustainable planet.”
How to see Costa Rica the green way
- Avoid hire cars and motorcycles; in Tamarindo and other resorts, golf carts have been licensed for getting round the local area: http://puravidaelectriccars.com
- Piedras Blancas, Barra Honda, Barbilla – never heard of them, have you? Skip the Arenal volcano and Tortuguero and see some of the lesser known national parks. See http://www.sinac.go.cr/ES/turismo/Paginas/parquesnacionales.aspx
- Use taxis colectivos – shared taxes, available in many rural towns.
- If you’ve got time on your hands, avoid flying; take a container ship – lots go to/through the Panama Canal, from where you can catch a bus: https://www.langsamreisen.de/en/freightertravel/
- Volunteer – you can even work in wildlife conservation: https://www.projects-abroad.org/volunteer-costa-rica/