Scarlet macaw in Costa Rica

Costa Rican President pledges to completely abolish fossil fuels

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Costa Rica’s recently elected President, Carlos Alvarado, has announced that his government plans to oversee the complete abolition of fossil fuels in the small Central American country.

“Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first,” he stated during his inauguration speech in the Plaza de la Democracia, San José, before crowds of thousands. Alvarado demonstrated his commitment to a greener economy by arriving at the ceremony riding a hydrogen bus.

“We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies,” he added.

Left-of-centre Alvarado, a former journalist, soundly beat his conservative, Evangelical Christian rival – whose campaign had focused on opposition to same-sex marriage – with 61 per cent of the popular vote. During Alvarado’s presidential campaign, he swore to modernise transportation, promote research into hydrogen and biofuels for cleaner vehicles, and to ban oil and gas exploration. In a speech in April preceding his inauguration, he announced his aim to completely abolish fossil fuels for transportation by 2021 to mark 200 years of Costa Rican independence.

“When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate [...] that we have removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation.”

Alvarado has made it a goal to have Costa Rica lead the 2015 Paris Agreement by becoming the world’s first “decarbonisation laboratory” by the 2020 UN climate talks. The Paris Agreement is a co-ordinated international response to the growing threat of climate change, seeking to reduce carbon emissions such that global temperature rises are maintained to within 2°C of pre-industrial levels.

Costa Rica – which is ranked as the greenest country by the New Economics Foundation – already derives 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources and last year ran for 300 days in a row just on wind, geothermal and hydropower.

However, the country’s rapidly expanding private transportation sector remains largely petrol-dependent. In order to aid a transition towards greener vehicles, previous President Luis Guillermo Solís introduced a law eliminating customs and sales charges and circulation taxes for electric vehicles.

Environmental groups have warmly welcomed Alvarado’s strong position, although there are some concerns that entirely eliminating fossil fuels within such a short timeframe could prove to be an insurmountable challenge. According to Jose Daniel Lara, an energy researcher at the University of California-Berkeley, such a strong proposition is unrealistic, although the strong commitment will boost efforts to reduce carbon emissions further in the country.

“A proposal like this one must be seen by its rhetoric value and not by its technical precision,” Lara told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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