Cost Rica to Become the World's First Carbon-Free Country?

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". That "pure life" is about to get even better.

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 be translated into a progressive government energy policy.

Recently elected new Costa Rican president Carlos Alvarado just 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.

Hydroelectric power plant.

With Alvarado now in charge, he will likely build on the legacy that Solís and others have 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 carbon-neutral 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 intention of reducing their emissions.

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