Lessons from Costa Rica: over 200 days without fossil fuels

Reaching the compromise between development and environmental sustainability is probably perceived as one of the greatest problems of 21st century. This is a historic period where all countries are trying to complete the transition from a fossil fuel-based economy to an economic system principally supported by renewable energies.

The answer to the energy problem could come from Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a small state stuck in the middle of the American continent, counting just a 4.5 million population but with one of the highest rates on the Human Development Index and wide social guarantees such as free education and health insurance.

In 2009 Costa Rica was rated as the greenest country in the world; nearly 100% of electricity came from renewable sources, including solar power. In 2015, Costa Rica didn’t use any fossil fuels to generate its  own electricity for almost 299 days.

This is not just a matter of chance, but it is the result of specific political choices which can be perceived as brave.

The Brave Decision

Investing in environmental development has not affected Costa Rica’s growth; it is the results of policies implemented by government from the 1950s. Costa Rica found the funding for its development after the abolition of its army.

Following a brief but bloody civil war, the country permanently abolished the army in 1949; this decision allowed Costa Rica to cut military spending and reinvest money in social policies.  In the 1950’s this brave decision allowed the government to invest in hydro power and in the 1970’s invest in a wide operation of reforestation. Nowadays, electricity in Costa Rica is generated mainly from water, volcanoes and solar panels.

How can we decarbonize an economy?

This factor hides a paradox: 17% of energy consumption comes from the use of fossil fuels in transports. Costa Rica is projecting to become a carbon neutral country by 2021. Its target aims to bring carbon emissions to 1.73 tonnes CO2e per capita in 2030, 1.19 tonnes CO2e per capita in 2050 and 0.27 tonnes of CO2e per capita to 2100.

Costa Rica thinks that the best way to reduce emission is to abolish the usage of fossil fuel in transportation and promote a transition to electric public transports. Before 2021, new attention will be paid to urban mobility and promoting electrification of the private auto fleet.

Redesigning mobility and cities based on people’s needs rather than car usage in Costa Rica will lead to an innovative economic growth.

For the second time in its history, Costa Rica is facing a second brave decision: turning down fossil fuel consumption, after having turned down military spending more than fifty years ago.


Written by Chiara Campanelli