An ambitious plan presented by Costa Rica’s political leaders a few years ago would have Costa Rica be among the first, or perhaps the first, nation to become carbon neutral in its carbon emissions from fuel burning.   The challenge of having a net zero emission of carbon dioxide gas due to a balance between gas produced by burning fuels and gases absorbed by trees and other plants is an elusive goal.   Most nations that consume tremendous amounts of fuels to generate electricity used to heat or cool buildings, move large numbers of vehicles and power a vast industrial network consider more modest goals of just reducing emissions.  However Costa Rica, with its mild tropical climate and large tracts of forest protected in its famous system of national parks and reserves (which cover over 25% of its territory) has a huge advantage over other nations and may just be able to achieve its carbon-neutral goal.

As reported recently in the local Costa Rican newspaper El Financiero, the German government will begin a cooperative technical program during the second half of 2011 and operate over the next three to four years to help Costa Rica achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by the year 2021.

The program is a joint effort between the German cooperative organization “GIZ” and the Federal Ministry of Environment, Conservation of Nature and Nuclear Security.

The objective of the program is that Costa Rica will be a “center of experimentation” and that successful strategies developed can be used in other countries as explained by Detlef Schreiber, head of the program.
The cooperative effort will combine assessments, expert assistance, research, training and transfer of technology.  Although details of the programs are still being determined, procedures will likely include studies of actual carbon emissions; design activities among transportation sectors, solid waste handling, and construction that are categorized as mitigative actions and qualify organizations to receive external funding; create centers for recycling; capture and utilize gas emissions from sanitary landfills; provide incentives to create eco-friendly construction; develop pilot programs for production of energy from biomass; reduce tariffs on electric vehicles; encourage more efficient public transportation to reduce traffic emissions; and focus on communication to increase awareness and sensitivity to the problems on the part of the population.

Currently Costa Rica has a big head start on being carbon neutral over other nations.  Most buildings in the mild temperatures of the mountain valley urban centers of the nation require little or no heating or air conditioning (the largest source of fuel consumption in other countries with cold or very hot climates), it has ample rainfall and a very mountainous terrain in the center of its territory resulting in about 78% of electricity generation from hydroelectric sources (as opposed to fossil fuels), it uses wind power and geothermal energy to produce about 18% more of its electricity, and has vast forests that absorb carbon dioxide and cover over half of its national territory.  Forest cover is also increasing in part due to the government providing financial assistance to landowners to protect established forests and plant more trees.

If Costa Rica succeeds in becoming carbon neutral with Germany’s help, it will be a shining example of international cooperation and yield technological solutions to problems that will improve our planet’s well-being and hopefully inspire other nations to follow.

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