17. May 2023 By Maximilian Hammes, Stephen Lorenzen and Jonas Schnorrenberg
The path to climate neutrality – Costa Rica as a role model?
There are destinations that wow us not only with their breath-taking nature and cultural diversity, but also with their commitment to climate protection. One such destination is Costa Rica, a small country in Central America that is considered a global pioneer in climate neutrality. In this blog post, we will take a closer look at the impressive measures Costa Rica has taken to become climate-neutral. We will also explore the question of whether Germany can learn from Costa Rica in order to achieve its own climate goals.
Costa Rica’s ambitious climate goals
Costa Rica has set itself the ambitious goal of being climate neutral by 2050, which means no longer producing any net greenhouse gas emissions. The country has already made considerable progress in recent decades and established itself as a pioneer in environmental protection and sustainability. In doing so, Costa Rica has achieved first place on the Sustainable Development Index (SDI). As an extension of the Human Development Index (HDI), this index is designed to include not only assessments of income, life expectancy and educational experience, but also the country’s material footprint and greenhouse gas emissions. Here are the measures Costa Rica took to secure first place:
- Renewable energies: 99.6 per cent of Costa Rica’s electricity now comes from renewable energy sources. Costa Rica heavily focuses on hydropower (78 per cent) and uses other energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass to meet its energy needs.
- Forest protection and reforestation: Costa Rica is famous for its green forests and nature reserves and has taken comprehensive forest protection and reforestation measures. The country has set itself the goal of achieving a total forest cover of 60 per cent of its territory by 2030 and is actively engaged in forest protection and reforestation programmes to restore lost forest.
- Sustainable tourism: Tourism is an important source of income for Costa Rica, and the country has focused on making tourism sustainable. There are a lot of sustainable tourism initiatives and certifications that promote environmental and social standards for the tourism industry. Carbon-neutral tourism can already be practised today.
- Environmental protection and biodiversity: Costa Rica is known for its extraordinary biodiversity and has taken comprehensive measures to protect the environment. There are numerous national parks, protected areas and nature reserves that preserve the country’s unique ecosystem and protect endangered species. Costa Rica has also implemented laws and programmes to reduce the use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture and to ensure the protection of rivers and bodies of water. In total, about 26 per cent of Costa Rica’s land area is designated as protected areas.
Germany and Costa Rica in comparison
In the last 20 years, both countries have taken different paths to developing renewable energies.
Germany has set itself the goal of covering 80 per cent of its energy supply via the use of renewable energies by 2050 and has made great progress in recent years. The share of renewable energies in its electricity supply has increased since 2000 from 6.2 per cent to around 43 per cent in 2020. During this period, Germany invested primarily in expanding wind energy and photovoltaics, but also made investments in expanding hydropower, biomass and geothermal energy.
Costa Rica, on the other hand, wants to switch completely to renewable energies and has made great progress in recent years. Today, the country is already a leader in the use of hydropower and is relying on solar energy and geothermal energy more and more. In 2019, Costa Rica was already covering around 99 per cent of its electricity needs using renewable energy sources and is therefore a global pioneer in this field.
Can Germany, as one of Europe’s leading industrialised nations, learn from Costa Rica? Germany has also set itself ambitious goals in the area of climate neutrality. But its progress is rather moderate. In 2022, the contribution of renewable energies to electricity generation in the country was only 46.3 per cent. In the SDI ranking, Germany comes in at 140 overall.
What to look for in a comparison
Both countries are very different, and Costa Rica’s approach to climate neutrality cannot necessarily be transferred to Germany one-to-one. In addition to resources, geographies and other challenges, particular attention should be paid to the following points:
- Size and population: Compared to Costa Rica, Germany is a much larger country with a significantly higher population. This affects the scalability and feasibility of measures. Solutions that have been successfully implemented in Costa Rica may need to be adapted to the larger scales and challenges found in Germany.
- Economic sectors: The economic sectors in Costa Rica and Germany are substantially different. While Costa Rica is heavily dependent on tourism and agriculture, Germany has a broader industrial base with a larger share of manufacturing and services. These factors may mean that different approaches and measures are required to achieve climate neutrality.
- Energy production: Costa Rica has focused its energy production efforts mainly on hydropower, while Germany has a more diverse energy mix with a larger share of renewable energies as well as fossil fuels and nuclear energy sources. This means that the challenges and opportunities in the field of energy production can differ in the two countries.
- Industry and transport: Germany has a large industrial sector and automotive industry, while Costa Rica is less developed in these areas. Measures to decarbonise industry and transport must therefore include different approaches and technologies that are specific to the respective countries.
- Social and political frameworks: The social and political frameworks in Costa Rica and Germany are different as well. Political priorities, legal frameworks, financial resources and cultural factors can influence the implementation of climate protection measures and must be considered separately in each country.
This makes it particularly important to adapt the solutions to Germany’s specific conditions and challenges.
It is important to note that no country is perfect and that Costa Rica also faces challenges and has potential for improvement. In the area of climate protection, emissions from transport, land use and hydropower are challenges for Costa Rica. Agriculture, especially livestock farming, contributes to deforestation and land degradation despite the abundance of protected areas in the country. Hydropower has negative environmental impacts such as interrupting the flow of rivers and altering ecosystems, while increasing tourism and consumption put pressure on resource consumption and waste management, which necessitates sustainable solutions.
Costa Rica has nevertheless established itself as a pioneer in climate neutrality and has taken impressive measures to shape a sustainable future. Germany can learn from Costa Rica’s experiences and measures to achieve its own climate neutrality goals. The increased expansion of renewable energies, the protection of forests and biodiversity, the promotion of sustainable tourism and the use of environmental protection measures are some of the important lessons that Germany can take from Costa Rica to make its contribution to global climate protection.
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