Costa Rica is one of the few developing countries with an absolute and unconditional emissions reduction target. Costa Rica’s NDC states its long-term intention to become carbon neutral by 2085, but this contradicts the carbon neutral target of 2021 set out in the 2008 National Climate Change Strategy (ENCC).
Costa Rica’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) sets an unconditional target to keep net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions below 9.37 MtCO2e in 2030 including Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF). The CAT estimates that this is equal to 14.5 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF. Based on this target, we rate Costa Rica’s 2030 NDC as “2°C compatible.”
The NDC also puts forward an indicative level of emissions (incl. LULUCF) of 10.9 MtCO2e for 2021 (equivalent to about 9% above 2010 emissions levels excl. LULUCF). We estimate that Costa Rica’s 2030 target of 9.37 MtCO2e incl. LULUCF is equivalent to an increase of 138% above 1990 levels, excluding LULUCF. If Costa Rica were to renew its commitment to carbon neutrality in 2021, as expressed in the ENCC, and maintain carbon neutrality into the future, the CAT would upgrade its rating to 1.5°C Paris Agreement Compatible.
Commitments with the “2°C compatible” rating, like Costa Rica’s, are consistent with the 2009 Copenhagen 2°C goal and therefore fall within the country’s fair share range, but are not fully consistent with the Paris Agreement. If all government targets were in this range, warming could be held below, but not well below, 2°C and still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement 1.5°C limit.
According to our analysis, Costa Rica will need to implement additional policies to reach its proposed targets. Costa Rica’s climate-related policies and programmes include a domestic carbon market, a carbon neutral certification scheme for businesses, NAMAs in the agricultural sector, and the National Energy Plan. Costa Rica also has a national strategy for REDD+, and expects to increase the size of the sink of the forestry sector. Costa Rica’s electricity generation already runs on a very high share of renewable sources, but emissions from transport, industry, and waste are expected to grow under current policies. If the CAT were to rate Costa Rica’s projected emissions levels in 2030 under current policies, we would rate Costa Rica “Insufficient.”
Costa Rica will go through an internal process to facilitate the implementation of the 2030 goal from 2021 onwards (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015). Further policies i.e. reducing energy demand, further decarbonising the energy supply, fuel switching and carbon sink management will need to be implemented for Costa Rica to meet its target. The government is engaged in multiple sectoral dialogues to better understand the most attractive mitigation actions. Examples of the policies considered include a goal to have 100% electricity generated from renewable energy, better agricultural practices, waste management in cities, and electric transportation (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015).
In the forestry sector, current efforts are mainly the Low Emissions Development Strategies and a REDD+ (Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) strategy at the national level. Also, as included in NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions), the metrics to assess the potential for removals and emissions are under review and continuous improvement (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2015a). Emissions excluding LULUCF could increase significantly from historic levels and require attention to further decarbonise the economy. We don’t include the forestry sector in our rating – please see the CAT’s NDC ratings and LULUCF page for more details.
Costa Rica submitted its NDC with a target of 9.37 MtCO2e emissions in 2030 and an indicative emissions level of 10.9 MtCO2e emissions by 2021 (including LULUCF). The CAT estimates the target to be 13.3 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF for the 2021 projections and 14.5 MtCO2e excluding LULUCF for 2030 target (see “assumptions” section for details on how we derive emissions levels excl. LULUCF). For 2030, this is equivalent to 138% above 1990 levels excluding LULUCF. Costa Rica also has a long-term target aiming at keeping emissions below 5.96 MtCO2e by 2050 including LULUCF (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015). Costa Rica additionally sets per capita emissions targets of 1.73 tCO2e in 2030, 1.19 tCO2e in 2050, and - 0.27 tCO2e in 2100. We do not include the 2050 or 2100 target in our analysis because Costa Rica has only provided LULUCF projections until 2030.
The NDC lists mitigation options under four broad categories:
Costa Rica communicated that it will implement a “long-term economy-wide transformational effort to enable carbon-neutrality”, that is, to have zero net emissions including LULUCF (UNFCCC, 2011). It adds that this target will help Costa Rica to significantly deviate from ‘business as usual’ emission scenarios from now until 2021 and beyond. In its previous assessments, the CAT interpreted this target to mean carbon neutrality by 2021, based on the National Climate Change Strategy (ENCC) from 2008 (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2009).
However, in their NDC (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015) Costa Rica gives a completely different interpretation of their carbon neutrality goal, namely being carbon neutral by 2085, starting in 2021. Indeed, according to the NDC, the definition of carbon neutrality by 2021 is completely redefined and changed to “(achieve) total net emissions comparable to total emissions in 2005”. The reasons for the change in the interpretation of the pledge, which in practical terms means a delay in climate action of 64 years, are unclear. Compared to the pledge, however, the NDC is more precise. The NDC provides exact net emission projections for 2021 (10.9 MtCO2e), Since the NDC—the most recent document—clarifies that the target year for carbon neutrality is 2085, we disregard the previously announced target.
We rate Costa Rica’s 2030 target as “2°C compatible”. The “2°C compatible” rating indicates that Costa Rica’s climate commitment in 2030 is within the range of what is considered to be a fair share of global effort but is not consistent with the Paris Agreement. This approach requires other countries to make deeper reductions and comparably greater effort to limit warming to 1.5°C. If all countries were to follow Costa Rica’s approach, warming could be held below—but not well below—2°C, and hence would still be too high to be consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. The 2°C compatible category refers to the 2°C goal adopted by the Copenhagen Agreement in 2009, now replaced by the 1.5°C limit in the Paris Agreement, providing a historical reference point and bridge to the Paris Agreement compatible category rating.
The CAT ratings are based on climate commitments in (I)NDCs. If the CAT were to rate Costa Rica’s projected emissions levels in 2030 under current policies, we would rate Costa Rica“Insufficient,” indicating that Costa Rica’s current policies in 2030 are not consistent with holding warming to below 2°C, let alone limiting it to 1.5°C as required under the Paris Agreement, and is instead consistent with warming between 2°C and 3°C: if all countries were to follow Costa Rica’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C. This means Costa Rica’s current policies are at the least stringent end of what would be a fair share of global effort, and is not consistent with the Paris Agreement warming limit, unless other countries make much deeper reductions and comparably greater effort.
For further information about the risks and impacts associated with the temperature levels of each of the categories click here.
With currently implemented policies, Costa Rica’s emissions levels could increase to 156% of 1990 levels by 2020 and 201% of 1990 levels by 2030, excluding land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF). Total emissions excl. LULUCF increased sharply in the early 1990s, and have steadily increased, though at a lower rate since 2000, doubling between 1990 (6 MtCO2e) and 2012 (12 MtCO2e). The LULUCF sector is expected to become a larger sink in the future, but emissions from transport, industry, and waste are expected to grow over time under current policies.
Costa Rica has put in place some policies to reduce GHG emissions. Most of the planned abatement will come from the LULUCF sector; the government intends to make an extensive use of funds from the REDD+ and carbon trade (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2009; Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2014). Until now, many of the accounting details for programmes like REDD+ in a post-2020 scenario have been uncertain (OECD, 2014).
Beyond LULUCF, the main policies driving mitigation take place in the energy, transport and agriculture sectors, with further substantial emissions reductions from the waste sector. Since the implementation of the National Climate Change Strategy (ENCC) in 2008, Costa Rica has been working to design mitigation actions in transportation, energy efficiency and conservation, renewable energy and agriculture (NAMA Database, 2011). Examples of the policies considered include a goal to have 100% electricity generated from renewable energy, better agricultural practices, waste management in cities and electric transportation (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015).
Costa Rica’s National Programme for Carbon Neutrality, first implemented in 2012, is a government initiative to reach carbon neutrality. A voluntary domestic carbon market has been established under the programme, in which businesses and organisations can purchase emissions offsets in pursuit of carbon neutrality, but only after they have done everything possible to reduce their own emissions. The programme also establishes a “C-Neutral” (carbon neutral) certification for businesses and a national registry of carbon footprints for organisations (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2015a).
The VII National Energy Plan 2015-2030, approved on September 14, 2015, supported the continuation of renewable energy development, energy efficiency and low-carbon emissions transport. The aspirational goal is to achieve and sustain 100% of electricity generation coming from renewable energy by 2021 (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2015b). In 2014, 90% of electricity was already generated from renewable sources, mainly hydropower (IEA, 2016) and Costa Rica already generates 100% electricity during some parts of the year. Further advancements are partially achieved with the National Program for Carbon Neutrality that promotes hydro, geothermal, wind, solar and biomass as renewable energy sources.
According to the NDC, most of the emissions reductions will come from the increased use of electric transportation, both private and public (i.e. inter-urban train) (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015). Regarding the agriculture sector, the NDC points out measures to increase access to finance for the procurement of low-carbon technologies, particularly for small and medium size enterprises. Costa Rica also has a National Low-Carbon Livestock Strategy, which aims at replicating pilot projects such as the one in the Livestock NAMA. Regarding the waste sector, the NDC plans to reduce GHG emissions by enhancing solid waste management in the Metropolitan area (Ministerio de Ambiente, 2015).
Historical emissions for the years 1990, 1996, 2000 and 2005 were taken from the latest UNFCCC inventory (UNFCCC, 2014). Data from the Third National Communication (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2014) was used for 2012. Data from the first Biennial Update Report (BUR) were used for 2012. We interpolated for the years in between. In its Third National Communication and Biennial Update Report, Costa Rica reported its emissions following the IPCC 2006 guidelines, meaning that emissions from Land Use and Forestry are reported as part of the AFOLU (Agriculture, Forestry, and Land Use) category. The CAT analysis requires historical data for LULUCF emissions. We estimated LULUCF emissions for 2010 and 2012 by recalculating the values from the detailed AFOLU sectoral emissions. Updated values for emissions in 2005 and 2010 were provided in the BUR, but because there are no details on the AFOLU sector, we could not use these updated values.
In previous CAT analyses, we assumed Costa Rica pledged carbon neutrality by 2021 as stated in the National Climate Change Strategy (2008), including emissions removals from LULUCF. However, Costa Rica’s NDC postponed the carbon neutrality target to 2085 and pledged to keep emissions below 9.37 MtCO2e by 2030, including LULUCF. Costa Rica also indicates a trajectory to its 2030 target in its NDC, with emissions of 10.9 MtCO2e in 2021. The CAT presents all targets excl. LULUCF. We have updated the LULUCF emissions projections for this analysis compared to previous years, and now use projections for LULUCF emissions from the Biennial Update Report (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2015a). The new LULUCF projections show a larger sink in 2021 and 2030, meaning that Costa Rica can emit more in other sectors and still achieve its target. This means that our estimation of Costa Rica’s target excl. LULUCF is higher (less ambitious) than in previous years. The change comes from a data update, not because Costa Rica has changed its target.
Our current policy projections are based on the Conservative baseline scenario from the first Biennial Update Report (Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía, 2015a). This scenario includes only actions or projects at a sector or economy wide level that are already implemented or which have received a first investment that makes them irreversible.
IEA. (2016). World Energy Statistics and Balances. 2016 Edition. Paris, France: International Energy Agency.
Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. (2009). Estrategia Nacional de Cambio Climático- Costa Rica (Vol. 1). San José.
Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. (2015). Costa Rica’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution.
Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. (2014). Costa Rica. Third National Communication.
Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. (2015a). Costa Rica. First Biennial Update Report.
Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. (2015b). VII Plan Nacional de Energía 2015-2030.
NAMA Database (2014). NAMAs in the Costa Rican coffee sector.
Republic of Costa Rica (2011). Costa Rica's pledge to the Copenhagen Accord. Compiled in: Compilation of information on nationally appropriate mitigation actions to be implemented by Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention, UNFCCC (2011)
UNFCCC. (2017). UNFCCC GHG Emission Data Portal.