Costa Rica and New Zealand on Path to Carbon Neutrality
While some of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) hem and haw about how to—or even if to—limit their contributions to climate change, at least two small countries are blazing trails for the world to follow. Both Costa Rica and New Zealand have declared over the past several months their intentions to become carbon neutral. Together, they accounted for about 0.15 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2005, according to the World Bank.
In May 2007, Costa Rica’s government announced it was drawing up plans to reduce net GHG emissions to zero before 2030. The country aims to reduce emissions from transport, farming, and industry, and to clean up its fossil fuel power plants, which account for 4 percent of the country’s electricity (of the rest, 78 percent comes from hydropower and 18 percent from wind and geothermal power). In addition, through an innovative program begun in 1997 and funded by a gas tax, the government compensates landowners for growing trees to absorb carbon while protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat. Costa Rica aims to be the first country to become carbon neutral.
But Costa Rica could be in a race with New Zealand, which last month set the target of becoming “the first truly sustainable nation on earth.” Prime Minister Helen Clark announced in a speech on September 20 that her country will adopt an economy-wide program to reduce all GHG emissions, with different economic sectors being gradually introduced into a national emissions trading program that should be in effect fully by 2013. Other commitments include an increase in renewable electricity to 90 percent by 2025 (up from 70 percent today), a major net increase in forest area, widespread introduction of electric vehicles, and a 50 percent reduction in transport-related emissions by 2040.
These two nations represent only a small share of the world’s emissions. But as New Zealand’s Clark said last month, “We are neither an economic giant nor a global superpower…. If we want to influence other countries and the responses they take in coming years and decades, then we must take action ourselves. Taking action is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”
Janet L. Sawin is a senior researcher and the director of the Energy and Climate Change Program at the Worldwatch Institute.