Costa Rica’s new president Carlos Alvarado announced a ban on fossil fuels Wednesday, establishing the small country as a major trailblazer in the global fight against climate change, according to Telesur TV.
More than 2,000 people crowded the Plaza de la Democracy in the capital San Jose to witness the historic announcement. Alvarado, who officially took office Tuesday, underlined his commitment by arriving in a hydrogen-powered bus.
"Decarbonization 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," Alvarado said during the event.
"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.
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Specific details of the plan have not yet been unveiled, but Costa Rica has long been committed to phasing out fossil fuels, the Independent reports.
The country currently gets more than 99% of its electricity from renewable energy, and went 300 days last year without using fossil fuels for electricity.
There are a few reasons for Costa Rica’s massive success in developing renewable sources of energy. The country’s geography allows it to get 78.26% of its energy from hydropower, its relatively small population doesn’t require much energy, and its leadership has long recognized the importance of fighting climate change.
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Years before the Paris climate agreement compelled countries to consider carbon-neutral targets, Costa Rica had set one in 2011 for 2021.
The new announcement by Alvarado escalates that earlier commitment. Becoming carbon-neutral and eliminating fossil fuels seem similar, but they’re ultimately two different goals.
Becoming carbon neutral would mean that Costa Rica is able to bring its net emissions to zero by investing in carbon removal efforts — planting trees, expanding wetlands, and developing carbon-sucking technologies that store carbon. Banning fossil fuels means that Costa Rica wants to eliminate carbon emissions entirely — a much harder target to reach.
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To get there, the country would have to ban gasoline-powered cars, buses, and boats, a feat no other country has accomplished.
Countries including China, India, France, the UK, and Norway have announced plans to ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars, but no other country has vowed to pull carbon-emitting vehicles off the road.
While Costa Rica’s goal is radical compared to what other countries are doing, the Paris climate agreement, which includes every country in the world except the US, essentially requires carbon emissions to be rapidly eliminated if global temperatures are to rise less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
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Alvarado’s arrival by hydrogen-powered bus on Wednesday shows that he’s eager to take the lead on this issue. In April, he promised to phase out transportation using gasoline and diesel by 2021, Costa Rica’s 200th year of independence, according to Reuters.
"When we reach 200 years of independent life we will take Costa Rica forward and celebrate ... that we've removed gasoline and diesel from our transportation,” he said during a victory speech, according to the Independent.
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