Costa Rica to Be­come the World’s First Car­bon-free Coun­try?

Trillions - - Contents -

In Costa Rica there is a con­cept of "pura vida" (pure life). If you ask some­one how they are they may re­ply "pura vida". Or if you ask them if they are go­ing to work to­day they might just say "pura vida". Ask them how their beer is and the re­sponse could also be "pura vida".

Pura vida can have a rather com­plex mean­ing but it gen­er­ally means en­joy­ment of life. Some­one may choose to not go to work be­cause they are sim­ply en­joy­ing the day and don't want to spoil it by work­ing. Or they are sa­vor­ing joy and don't want to be dis­turbed, or some­thing res­onates with that joy and so should not be dis­turbed or spoiled.

While pura vida can be used as an ex­cuse for lazi­ness it also pro­vides a solid cul­tural foun­da­tion for an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of na­ture, beauty, sim­plic­ity and leisure.

Many Costa Ri­cans value qual­ity of life over the pur­suit of wealth and that is one of the things that makes Costa Rica spe­cial and a fa­vorite of many tourists and ex­pats.

On a na­tional level, the con­cept of pura vida is trans­lated into a pro­gres­sive govern­ment en­ergy pol­icy.

Re­cently elected new Costa Ri­can pres­i­dent Car­los Al­varado re­cently gave a speech that shook up the world. For once, it was the kind of speech that was sur­pris­ing in a pos­i­tive way.

In the speech, Pres­i­dent Al­varado set a goal for Costa Rica to be­come the world’s first car­bon-free coun­try by 2021.

Costa Rica has al­ready made a strong start to­ward this goal. The coun­try long ago set it­self on a plan to con­nect pri­mar­ily to re­new­able en­ergy re­sources such as hy­dropower and wind. 99% of the elec­tric­ity used in the coun­try al­ready comes from those sources.

The next step is to wean the coun­try’s 4.8 mil­lion peo­ple away from us­ing fos­sil fu­els in the cars they drive. Trans­porta­tion of all kinds is re­spon­si­ble for ap­prox­i­mately two-thirds of the en­ergy-re­lated fos­sil fuel emis­sions in the coun­try. That is es­pe­cially

chal­leng­ing con­sid­er­ing the rapid growth of the Costa Ri­can econ­omy and the de­sire to own cars that has come with it.

To get that tran­si­tion to hap­pen in such a short time is go­ing to take a bit of work, but one ma­jor help­ful step in the process hap­pened just a few months ago un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of re­cently de­parted Pres­i­dent Luis Guillermo Solís. On Jan­uary 25, 2018, he signed into law a rad­i­cal bill that has some ma­jor in­cen­tives for those who make the switch to elec­tric ve­hi­cles (EVS). Ef­fec­tive as of the sign­ing, the law elim­i­nated all sales, cus­toms and cir­cu­la­tion taxes for EVS. It also elim­i­nated park­ing fees for EVS at all mu­nic­i­pal park­ing lo­ca­tions around the coun­try.

With Al­varado now in charge, he will likely build on the legacy that Solís and oth­ers al­ready put in place. Other in­cen­tives, both pos­i­tive for EVS and neg­a­tive for gas-pow­ered ve­hi­cles, will likely be set up soon. Whether that is enough to reach the goal of the coun­try be­ing com­pletely car­bon-free by the end of 2021 still re­mains to be seen.

De­spite that, Costa Rica has taken some ma­jor steps in past years that have helped launch it on this path. Ac­cord­ing to econ­o­mist Joseph Stiglitz, in a col­umn pub­lished not long ago, Costa Rica has taken it to heart that it has a unique trea­sure in its “rich bio­di­ver­sity.” He fur­ther wrote, “Costa Rica has demon­strated far-sighted en­vi­ron­men­tal lead­er­ship by pur­su­ing re­for­esta­tion, des­ig­nat­ing a third of the coun­try pro­tected nat­u­ral re­serves and de­riv­ing al­most all of its elec­tric­ity from clean hy­dro power.”

Costa Rica has also set it­self aside from oth­ers by join­ing – and liv­ing the credo of – what is called the Well­be­ing Economies Al­liance. This is a group of na­tions, also in­clud­ing New Zealand, Slove­nia and Scot­land, that have sworn off the pre­vail­ing goal world­wide of a coun­try mea­sur­ing its suc­cess by its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct, or GDP. In­stead, the coun­tries in the al­liance are al­ways look­ing to use pub­lic pol­icy to ad­vance their ci­ti­zens’ well-be­ing in a broad way. That in­cludes the pro­mo­tion of democ­racy and sus­tain­able and in­clu­sive growth for all ci­ti­zens.

Pres­i­dent Al­varado has two other items in his “back pocket” to help him lead the coun­try to the am­bi­tious goal of be­ing car­bon-free by 2021. He be­gan his term of of­fice with a strong 60% vote man­date, some­thing that should pro­vide some ini­tial mo­men­tum dur­ing his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s “hon­ey­moon” pe­riod. He also gets to use Costa Rica’s 200th an­niver­sary as an in­de­pen­dent na­tion in 2021 as a ral­ly­ing point to en­cour­age the ci­ti­zens to step up and, to­gether, make this hap­pen.

Costa Rica is unique in an­other way. It abol­ished its stand­ing army in 1948 and has only a small Na­tional Guard that op­er­ates on a shoe­string bud­get. Be­cause it does not have a mil­i­tary force, it can’t have any mil­i­tary coups and tax dol­lars are not wasted on use­less things. It gen­er­ally has peace­ful re­la­tions with its neigh­bors and does not be­lieve that it has a duty or right to in­ter­fere in other na­tions’ af­fairs. It has evolved be­yond a cul­ture of war and cel­e­brates peace, and it has ben­e­fited tremen­dously be­cause of it.

Costa Rica is a beau­ti­ful coun­try but is no par­adise – it suf­fers from ex­ten­sive cor­rup­tion, con­trol by the CIA, poverty and a very high crime rate – but it is way bet­ter off than its neigh­bors and has a good chance of mak­ing the tran­si­tion to a mostly car­bon­neu­tral fu­ture. Un­for­tu­nately, how­ever, that won’t be enough to save it from the rav­ages of global warm­ing and run­away cli­mate change caused pri­mar­ily by other na­tions with no real in­ten­tion of re­duc­ing their emis­sions.

The North Amer­ica Pro­cure­ment Coun­cil will be of­fer­ing sub­stan­tial AMERO grants for Costa Rica’s tran­si­tion to EVS.

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