Costa Rica is a trailblazer when it comes to protecting the natural world.
As early as the 1980s, Costa Rica recognized the critical role of forests in providing carbon storage, fresh water, clean air, medicines, soil, and watershed protection. Not to mention food, shelter, and products for communities.
At the time, the country's landscape looked like a moth-eaten sweater, more holes than forest due to agressive land clearing for coffee production and cattle raising. At its worst, only 21 percent of the legendary lush jungles remained. Then Costa Rica got creative and started providing economic incentives to people and companies that conserved natural resources.
The plan worked. Costa Rica has rebounded. Today, tropical forest again covers more than half of the country and fuel an economy principally based on ecotourism. The water is getting cleaner. The air is getting fresher.
These healthy forests are also playing a critical role in curbing climate change. They "breathe" CO2 from the atmosphere and store it in trees and soil; in fact, roughly half of the world's terrestrial carbon is stored in forests. For Ticos, as Costa Rican natives are known, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing the climate is personally important, as the extinction of their emblematic golden toad (Bufo periglenes) due to climate change and altered weather patterns is still fresh.
In the past 20 years, illegal logging in Costa Rica has decreased from 82 percent to 15 percent, and forest fires have decreased by 40 percent. The government’s visionary policy of paying farmers not to clear land, but to manage it and to conserve vital ecosystem services was a critical component to the country’s successful rescue of forests. More than 18 other countries, including China, have consulted Costa Rica to learn about this innovative market-oriented policy.
FEATURED: CI-Costa Rica was recently featured on NBC. Watch the segment now.
Costa Rica is now the first and only tropical country in the world that has reversed a decades-long process of deforestation. It was the first country to set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2021, and by most estimates it will be the first to realize this goal. By protecting forests instead of destroying them, Costa Rica is leading the global effort to mitigate climate change.