World leaders were gathered in New York in September for the Climate Action Summit. The summit’s goal, according to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, was to encourage countries to get serious about climate change.
“Don’t come with a speech,” Guterres has warned. “Come with a plan.”
So far, international efforts have fallen short. Four years after the Paris climate accord was inked, countries’ promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions remain too weak to meet the agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. By the end of the century, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.2 degrees compared to preindustrial times if current policies aren’t strengthened, according to a new estimate from the Climate Action Tracker.
But that doesn’t mean countries haven’t made any progress. A handful of nations have managed to drive down their emissions—and some have made great strides in specific areas.
Costa Rica was one of six countries that have already taken meaningful action on climate change, and this is how they did it.
Costa Rica may be tiny, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in ambition. Like the U.K. and Norway, the country has committed to reaching net zero emissions by the middle of the century. And in February, it released a detailed blueprint for how to do it.
If it hews to that plan, it will help the world limit warming to 2 degrees—and it will be nearly enough to meet the 1.5-degree target. (Currently, it is tracking slightly above the 2-degree goal.)
The country has already tackled some of its biggest emissions sectors. It gets 80% of its energy from hydropower and most of the rest from other renewables. It has also managed to reverse the trend of deforestation that plagued the country in the 1960s and ’70s. Since that time, Costa Rica has more than doubled its forest cover.
Most of its emissions now come from transportation. The government hopes to follow Norway’s lead in increasing the share of electric cars. But it would ultimately like to make public transportation the option of choice, especially for city dwellers. By 2035, it wants a bus fleet made up of 70% electric vehicles and an electric train system to ferry people between cities.
This is easier said than done, since the government generates a significant fraction of its revenue from gas taxes. But Costa Rica is taking the problem seriously; reforming its tax system is a pillar of its decarbonization program.
Costa Rica also plans to promote sustainable building and implement a national compost strategy. It aims to increase its forest cover even further, to 60% of its footprint. And it has placed a moratorium on oil extraction until 2050.
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