Costa Rica

2019 Champion of the Earth Policy Leadership
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The decarbonization plan consists of maintaining an upward curve in terms of economic employment growth, and at the same time generating a downward curve in the use of fossil fuels in order to stop polluting. How are we going to achieve that? Through clean public transport, smart and resilient cities, sound waste management, sustainable agriculture and improved logistics.
Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica

A celebrated world leader in sustainability, Costa Rica has been chosen as Champion of the Earth for policy leadership because of its pioneering role in the protection of nature and its commitment to ambitious policies to combat climate change. 

Notably, the Central American nation has drafted a detailed plan to decarbonize its economy by 2050, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It hopes to provide a template for other nations to do the same and curb the deadly emissions causing rapid, disastrous climate change. 

“The decarbonization plan consists of maintaining an upward curve in terms of economic employment growth, and at the same time generating a downward curve in the use of fossil fuels in order to stop polluting. How are we going to achieve that? Through clean public transport, smart and resilient cities, sound waste management, sustainable agriculture and improved logistics,” said President Carlos Alvarado Quesada.

The plan includes bold mid- and long-term targets to reform transport, energy, waste and land use. The aim is to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, meaning the country will produce no more emissions than it can offset through actions such as maintaining and expanding its forests. 

Costa Rica’s success in placing environmental concerns at the heart of its political and economic policies shows that sustainability is both achievable and economically viable. Officials say Costa Rica aims to change the paradigm of development, envisioning a consumption and production system that generates an environmental surplus rather than a deficit. 

“In 2050, although it seems very distant, I hope I can tell my son, who is six years old now, and by then will be my age, that we did the right thing, we did what had to be done so that he could live in a better world, mainly because we tackled the effects of climate change,” President Alvarado Quesada said. 

Costa Rica’s environmental credentials are impressive: more than 95 per cent of its energy is renewable, forest cover stands at more than 50 per cent after painstaking work to reverse decades of deforestation and around half of the country’s land is under some degree of protection. 

In 2017, the country ran for a record 300 days solely on renewable power. The aim is to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030. Seventy per cent of all buses and taxis are expected to be electric by 2030, with full electrification projected for 2050.

Costa Rica’s groundbreaking role in promoting clean technologies and sustainability is all the more remarkable for the fact that the country of around 5 million people produces only 0.4 per cent of global emissions. 

The Champion of the Earth award recognizes Costa Rica’s sustainability credentials and also spotlights the urgent need to find solutions to climate change. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require unprecedented changes to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.

Champions of the Earth is the United Nations’ flagship global environmental award. It was established by the UN Environment Programme in 2005 to celebrate outstanding figures whose actions have had a transformative positive impact on the environment. From world leaders to environmental defenders and technology inventors, the awards recognize trailblazers who are working to protect our planet for the next generation. 

Previous laureates from the region include Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, for her outstanding leadership in creating marine protected areas and for boosting renewable energy (2017), former Brazilian environment minister Izabella Teixeira for her visionary leadership and key role in reversing deforestation of the Amazon (2013) and Mexican ecologist José Sarukhán Kermez for a lifetime of leadership and innovation in the conservation of biodiversity in Mexico and around the world (2016). 

In 2010, Costa Rica was awarded the Future Policy Award by the World Future Council in recognition of its 1998 biodiversity law, which was held up as a model for other nations to follow.