Sustainability Leader Costa Rica Makes Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Key to Decarbonization

Costa Rica, a world leader in sustainable development, is cutting black carbon and methane to save lives and money while transitioning to a low-carbon future

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San Jose, Costa Rica
San Jose, Costa Rica. Photo: Wayne77 / Wikimedia.

Costa Rica integrated short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) into its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), aiming to reduce black carbon by 20 per cent by 2030 with cleaner and more efficient passenger transport, freight, and industry. The country’s NDC also commits to an emissions ceiling of 106.53 Mt of CO2 equivalent between now and 2030, which will be accomplished through methane-reducing transformations in the agriculture and waste sectors.

Costa Rica is a world climate leader with a bold ambition to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, as outlined in its national decarbonization plan. SLCP reductions are a key way to bolster the drive to decarbonize while creating a healthier and more productive country.

“The good news is that SLCP cuts are compatible with carbon cuts,” said Luis Victor-Gallardo, Research Engineer at the Electric Power and Energy Research Laboratory in the University of Costa Rica. “Focusing on SLCP-emitting sources reduces the emissions with the worst externalities— like the effects of black carbon on health or methane on the climate.”

Reducing global methane emissions by 45 per cent could avert up to 0.3°C of global warming by 2045 and because it’s a key ingredient in ground level ozone, or smog, it could also prevent 260,000 premature deaths. Black carbon is a part of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution, which causes millions of premature deaths every year.

Costa Rica has contributed minimally to the global carbon emissions creating the climate crisis, which means spurring action requires considering the variety of co-benefits associated with emissions reductions. 

“For the country to accomplish its carbon neutrality ambitions it has to have some sort of incentive: what does it gain from diminishing emissions, being such a small country and not really contributing a lot to climate change,” said Victor-Gallardo, who worked with the CCAC to develop the country’s SLCP models. “It’s important to highlight that mitigation is not just a burden that countries have to do because we're doomed by climate change but it is also an opportunity for society to become more productive and more sustainable.”

A major incentive is the economic benefits: the anticipated benefits of Costa Rica’s decarbonization plan, of which SLCPs are a key part, is $41 billion between 2022 and 2050, which is about 67 per cent of the country’s 2018 GDP. The avoided health issues, traffic congestion, and accidents are estimated to be $17.6 billion and agriculture, livestock, and forestry accounts for $20 billion.

Cattle and waste are responsible for about 28 per cent of the country’s gross emissions. Costa Rica’s Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) on Livestock is working to make the livestock sector not only lower emitting but also more productive and efficient using strategies such as rotational grazing and improved pasture management. The country’s NDC and its low-carbon livestock strategy from the Ministry of Agriculture also include measures to transform the sector, including genetic and reproductive management and quality animal feed to reduce the number of unproductive cattle. These measures will help not only reduce methane emissions and achieve a key focus area of the country’s Decarbonization plan, it will also increase the income of ranchers and their resilience to climate change. 

When it comes to waste, Costa Rica is working to increase recycling and composting, secure sanitation in rural areas, manage the disposal of non-recycled waste in landfills, and implement methane capture in landfills. The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Energy and Environment are currently developing a NAMA for waste to achieve these goals. Costa Rica aims to have a Strategy and Plan for Better Technological Options to reduce methane by 2022 and to have sanitary waste solutions for every citizen by 2050. 

Reducing short-lived climate pollutants in Costa Rica

Reducing short-lived climate pollutants in Costa Rica
Vice Minister of Energy, Rolando Castro, on Costa Rica's work with the Climate & Clean Air Coalition to strengthen national capacity for short-lived climate pollutant mitigation.

“Reducing these emissions is good for economics and the quality of life of ordinary people,” said Victor-Gallardo. “More efficient cattle production increases the profitability of farms and reduces emissions. More recycling avoids the expansion of landfills or, worse, illegal dumps, which can affect the poorest communities.”

Transport is responsible for almost a quarter of the country’s black carbon emissions. As part of its NDC, the country plans to electrify its vehicle fleet by at least 8 per cent by 2030. The country is also working to fully phase out heavy emitting diesel vehicles, including by developing a more efficient and reliable public transport system. By 2035, it plans to have 35 per cent of its buses and taxis be zero emissions and all of them zero emissions by 2050. Costa Rica has already implemented legislation creating tax incentives for purchasing electric cars to help achieve these goals. This work will not only reduce black carbon emissions but will save money because it can use locally available energy instead of importing diesel fuels. 

Costa Rica has never extracted fossil fuels and in August lawmakers said they planned to ban the practice. The majority of its electricity is also renewable, drawing primarily from hydropower. Costa Rica is a major destination for ecotourism, making climate and clean air not only key to the health of its citizens but vital for the economy. 

“The mitigation of short-lived climate pollutants is key to a sustainable future,” said Vice Minister of Energy Rolando Castro. “Since 2017, the CCAC has supported us in two studies that analyse different aspects associated with short-lived climate pollutants. The CCAC helped us to understand the impact of short-lived climate pollutants and to identify mitigation action with synergies between the country’s climate policy and its health policy. It also supported the creation of local capacity to model and study short-lived climate pollutants.” 

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SNAP LEAP-IBC workshop in San José, Costa Rica
SNAP LEAP-IBC workshop in San José, Costa Rica

The CCAC has supported Costa Rica in a variety of ways, including assistance with the development of a black carbon emissions inventory and analysis of the emissions reduction potential of a variety of key emitting sectors. The CCAC further supported the country to enhance its national planning capacity to successfully act on SLCPs.

The CCAC and the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) hosted a capacity building workshop to help the country identify its priority mitigation sectors of transport and waste. The CCAC also supported the development of local expertise to better measure SLCP emissions, which helped Costa Rica include achievable targets in their NDCs.

“The CCAC has provided valuable contributions to the NDC development teams,” said Castro. “The outcome of the analysis can be used as input for the creation of sector plans aligned with the NDC implementation process.”

Costa Rica used the ‘Long-range Energy Alternatives Planning system - Integrated Benefits Calculator’ (LEAP-IBC), a tool that helps countries identify key emitting sectors and more precisely understand how they’re impacting health and agriculture. This tool expanded Costa Rica’s capacity to gather and analyse emissions data to plan targeted mitigation action.

“We received a complete list of emissions factors that are accurate and precise,” said Kendal Blanco Salas, the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Coordinator. “With good data and projections, mitigation actions and planning efforts can be better directed to the most critical areas.” 

The integrated emissions inventory and mitigation analyses will help Costa Rica work smarter  towards a healthier and more productive economy in the future.

“Having this information from the CCAC helped Costa Rica make better policy decisions,” said Jessica Roccard, a planning and environmental management consultant in Costa Rica.

“We’re not just going to mitigate emissions because it is important for the world but also because it can make the country more productive and improve the livelihood of its citizens,” said Victor-Gallardo.

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