Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Carbon Neutrality by 2021 - an Achievable goal?

A small, but growing, number of countries are racing to become "carbon neutral" by reducing or offsetting their emissions of greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases are major contributors to global warming. Roberto Dobles, the minister of environment and energy for Costa Rica, calls the race to Carbon Neutrality the "carbon-neutral World Cup." Amongst the runners in this important race Costa Rica is the hot favorite.

"Here's the big goal, which I am personally declaring for the first time tonight. By 2021, Costa Rica's 200th birthday, we will be a carbon neutral country," President Oscar Arias said. So Costa Rica is serious this time but how realistic is this lofty goal?

Well, Costa Rica is an international leader on green issues, with protected areas like national parks and biological reserves covering more than a quarter of its territory. Renewable energy powers 95 percent of country’s requirements. This energy air-conditions resort hotels, charges golf carts, powers cable pulleys through the rain forest canopy, and bakes chips at the local Intel assembly plant. Costa Rica’s energy mix is led by 75–80% hydropower , 12% geothermal, 12% wind power and 3%–5% non renewable oil. The workhorse hydro is a mix of storage and run of river, with storage accounting for about 50% of the 2,000 MW installed capacity.

Costa Rica is working hard in developing its geothermal power and of course the country is blessed with many geothermal power advantages. In In Costa Rica’s case, high temperature wells (150 to 400 degrees Celsius) are used, but there are also medium and low temperature wells. Endowed with fantastic natural resources for geothermal power, the governmental Costa Rican Institute of Electricity (ICE) has dedicated significant resources to the further development of geothermal power. There are two geothermal plants scheduled to become operational in 2011. Geothermal power has the advantages of cost and of course it is not weather dependant.

Costa Rica also has worked hard to maintain its rightly deserved reputation as an eco-friendly tourist destination and this approach has paid off, with tourism, especially eco-tourism, accounting for almost 10% of 2007 GDP and more than 13% of total employment. Tourism is a greater contributor to the country’s GDP than for virtually any other country in the region.

The buzzword in Costa Rica is sustainable development and this is being undertaken at all levels and the concept has increasingly entered the consciousness of the average Costa Rican citizen. For many Costa Ricans however, it is not just an abstract concept but a matter of survival as input costs increase, natural resources diminish and the soil loses fertility or is washed away.

Costa Rica carbon neutral by 2021, a lofty goal but certainly achievable.

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