Costa Rica Aims to Be 1st Carbon-Neutral Country

Stefan Lovgren in San Jose, Costa Rica
for National Geographic News
March 7, 2008

A small but growing number of countries are racing to become "carbon neutral" by reducing or offsetting their emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming.

Roberto Dobles, the minister of environment and energy for Costa Rica, calls the race the "carbon-neutral World Cup."

His country recently became the first to make the green pledge.

"We realize that climate change is probably the major challenge facing humanity today, and it's everyone's responsibility to combat it," Dobles said in an interview at his office in San Jose.

The quest for carbon neutrality seeks to balance the amount of carbon dioxide a country releases by burning fossil fuels with the amount that it captures or offsets by, for example, planting trees. (See how global warming works.)

At a United Nations climate conference last month, the U.N.'s Environment Program launched a new online network of countries engaged in the carbon-neutral endeavor.

At the 154-nation talks, Monaco, the host country, became the fifth to commit to carbon neutrality, joining Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, and Costa Rica.

The smart money may be on Costa Rica to get there first, experts say, even though the small Central American country faces a host of problems, from illegal logging to overdevelopment fueled by tourism.

"There are advantages that Costa Rica offers to becoming carbon neutral," said Manuel Ramirez, Costa Rica director for the environmental nonprofit Conservation International.

For example, over 80 percent of Costa Rica's energy is already generated through renewable sources, such as water and wind.

And the country's rich tropical biosphere makes the environmental stakes especially high there.

Slightly smaller than West Virginia, Costa Rica is believed to house about 5 percent of the world's plant and animal species.

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