March 4, 2024

Costa Rica Pioneers in Offsetting Tourists’ Carbon Footprint

Costa Rica has created one of the world’s most successful schemes to offset tourists’ carbon footprint when visiting the country

Costa Rica is recognised worldwide for its tourism development model based on sustainability, innovation, and inclusiveness. The country is constantly looking for ways to contribute to environmental sustainability and social progress, for present and future generations.

Mitigation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adaptation to climate change is one of the main challenges, particularly because Costa Rica is highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

For the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) and the National Fund for Forest Financing (Fonafifo/MINAE), offsetting GHG emissions is a mechanism for attracting financial resources to increase the forest cover, through the Payment
for Environmental Services Program. It is a way of continuing to support the economy of owners of farms that transform the landscape. This maintenance and restoration of ecosystems helps protect the biological diversity that characterises Costa Rica, and which is necessary to the well-being of its inhabitants and the enjoyment of tourists.

Compensation is viewed as a temporary mechanism, as long as the resources collected are directed towards objectives of sustainable development. The money is then directed to financial recognition, to owners or possessors of farms that make conservation a reality. These people directly or indirectly are contributing to making sustainable tourism a reality. The financing mechanism supports the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment that is part of Costa Rica’s Political Constitution.

Trees for Climate Change: A Costa Rican success story

According to the ICT, Costa Rica is the only country in Latin America that has reversed deforestation, after having had high rates until the 1980s. At the beginning of the 20th century, Costa Rica focused its economic development on agricultural activity. During this period, the country enacted laws to reclaim land for agriculture, and lost half of its mature forest between 1940 and 1980.
However, from the 1990s, Costa-Ricans changed their perception to turn increasingly to the protection of their natural resources. The country implemented stricter environmental regulations, new conservation policies, and changes in the market. In 1996, Costa Rica made it illegal to chop down forest without approval from authorities and it created the Payment for Environmental Services in forests and plantations, financed by a 3.5% fuel tax.

Costa Rica Pioneers in Offsetting Tourists' Carbon Footprint

These initiatives along with a strong system of protected areas slowed net deforestation and allowed for forest regeneration. The protection and recovery process allowed Costa Rica to protect 6.5% of the recognised species on the planet. The country’s forestry and other land use sector is now a carbon sink. In 2021, Costa Rica reached 57% coverage of its land by forest and 0% net deforestation.

Costa Rica carried out an analysis of the GHG emissions of the routes used by travellers to the destination, coming to the conclusion that a tourist aware of their impact on the planet, voluntarily could substantially support a country that has demonstrated its environmental and social achievements.

Since 2020 the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) and the National Forest Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) provide tourists with a simple and secure platform to measure the carbon footprint. Whether they fly, drive, or take the bus, the app provides the opportunity to learn about, and neutralise, the emissions of any trips. Through visitors’ voluntary compensation of their carbon footprint, Costa Rica manages to gather financial resources for the National PES Programme, so that it can continue transforming landscapes, families, farms, and tropical ecosystems. Costa Rica is a model of regenerative tourism, an achievement that has led to numerous international recognitions in tourism.

Hall 22 / Stand 200