Costa Rica, nestled between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, is making plans to be entirely free of fossil fuels in the very near future. New President Carlos Alvarado, age 38, told a cheering crowd at his inauguration last week, “Decarbonization is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first. We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”
Costa Rica has made impressive strides in its campaign to rely strictly on renewable energy for its electricity. In 2017, it had 300 days in which renewables met its entire demand for electricity. It is at the forefront of geothermal energy and has taken a leading role in the world community when it comes to banning plastics.
Yet it suffers from the same curse as every other nation in the world — too damn many automobiles. On a percentage basis, Costa Rica’s new car market is growing faster than China’s, at about 25% a year, and the streets of its capitol city, San José, are choked with traffic that seems to grow worse by the day. As a result, while carbon emissions from electricity generation are falling, emissions from internal combustion engines are soaring.
Less than 2% of the cars in Costa Rica are electrics and hybrids. Last year, demand for gasoline was up 11% according to The Guardian. But president Alvarado has a plan to deal with the curse of fossil fuel powered cars. During his campaign, he announced a goal of ending fossil fuel usage by 2021. “When we reach 200 years of independent life, we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate … that we’ve removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” he promised, according to a report in The Independent.
While that goal is laudable, it will be hard to reach, says José Daniel Lara, a Costa Rican energy researcher at the University of California-Berkeley who claims completely eliminating fossil fuels within just a few years is probably unrealistic, even though the plan will lay the groundwork for faster action towards that goal. “It must be seen by its rhetoric value and not by its technical precision,” Mr Lara said.
Costa Rica, which has no army, now plans to get off fossil fuel entirely in the next few years. This is what leadership looks like. https://t.co/4imkUfIrjm
— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) May 12, 2018
Regular CleanTechnica collaborator Monica Araya, who is an economist and director of Costa Rica Limpia, says her country’s plan to wean itself off of fossil fuels in all sectors, including transportation, sends a powerful message to the world. As most of the world’s developed countries dodge and weave around the subject of fossil fuels and their impact on the COP21 agreements they all agreed to, Costa Rica is holding up a mirror and saying, “Look. If we can do this, so can you!”
#Podcast by @Monocle24 talks about #CostaRica's vision to move beyond #fossilfuels. Here's a brief interview I did. Our (new) President's decision is an idea whose time has come. It was several years in the making. It is hard but doable! (Last 6-7 min)https://t.co/DtAmvVR4cu pic.twitter.com/ni8I8abbKx
— Monica Araya (@MonicaArayaTica) May 12, 2018
Araya is also a champion of the C40 Cities program, whose mission is to change the world, one city block at a time. Cities have been leaders of climate action in recent years, and Milan is now taking a leadership role by looking at a similar target to Costa Rica’s.
#Milan will have a zero-emission historical city centre by 2030, banning all fossil fuel vehicles from the city centre by 2029. By signing the C40 Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets Declaration, the pioneering city pledged to ensure that a major area of their city is zero emission by 2030. pic.twitter.com/UL2uhts2PD
— C40 Cities (@c40cities) May 11, 2018
Is there any guarantee that Costa Rica will succeed in banning fossil fuels by 2021? No, there is not. But establishing such a goal is an important step in moving Costa Rica and the world toward a future in which carbon emissions no longer threaten to destroy the world and all living things who depend on it for survival. If Costa Rica misses its goal by a few years or even a decade, at least it will be helping change people’s minds about fossil fuels. Attitudes change slowly, but as the Chinese saying goes, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”
Top image via The Real Deal Tours