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Costa Rica Ambition gap

What is Costa Ricaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

1.5°C compatible pathways

Costa Rica has set an unconditional target in its 2020 NDC which translates to emissions of around 12 MtCO₂e/yr in 2030 excluding LULUCF,1 or 10-14% below 2015 emission levels. Current policy projections show that if the country reaches the maximum potential of its current policies, it would be on track to meet its NDC.2

Costa Rica’s NDC is not conditional on international support, though Costa Rica has also highlighted the ‘need of financial support, technology transfer and capacity’ as an impact of the pandemic.3 Paris Agreement compatible emissions pathways would require a 37% emissions reduction below 2015 levels or 9 MtCO₂e/yr excluding LULUCF by 2030.

Long-term pathway

Costa Rica has set a goal to reach net zero GHG emissions (including LULUCF) by 2050, indicating a projected sink of -5.5 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050.

1.5°C compatible pathways would require Costa Rica to reach a level of remaining GHG emissions lower than 2 MtCO₂e/yr excluding LULUCF by 2050 (or 88% below 2015 levels).15 Costa Rica’s projected land sink indicates that the country is well positioned to balance its remaining emissions by 2050.

When excluding the contribution of land sinks, the main driver of negative emissions is the energy sector, where some models show already negative CO₂ emissions by 2040 from bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS). This continues balancing ongoing emissions of methane and other non-CO₂ GHGs from the agriculture, industry and waste sectors.

The transport sector will play a key role in decarbonisation. If the use of fossil fuel vehicles continues past 2050, carbon dioxide removal approaches, including from the land sector, would be needed to counteract these emissions and keep Costa Rica compatible with 1.5°C pathways.

1 Climate Action Tracker. Climate Target Update Tracker: Costa Rica. (2020).

2 Climate Action Tracker. Costa Rica: Current Policy Projections. (2020).

3 Gobierno de Costa Rica. Contribución Nacionalmente Determinada. (2020).

4 Government of Costa Rica. National Decarbonization Plan. (2019).

5 International Energy Agency. IEA Country Profiles: Costa Rica. (2021).

6 Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía. Second Biennial Update Report. (Costa Rica, 2019).

7 Ministerio de Salud Costa Rica. Plan Nacional para la Gestión Integral de Residuos 2016-2021. (2016).

8 Ministerio de Ambient y Energia Costa Rica. Reforma Declara Moratoria Nacional para explotación petrolera. Sistema Costarricense de Información Jurídica (2019).

9 Salgado, L., Dumas, M., Feoli, M. & Cedeño, M. Mercado doméstico voluntario de carbono de Costa Rica: Un instrumento haciala C-Neutralidad. (2013).

10 Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía – Gobierno de Costa Rica. Plan Nacional de Energía 2015-2030. Plan Nacional De Plan Nacional De Observación (2015).

11 Gobierno de Costa Rica. Segundo Informe Biennial De Actualización: Costa Rica. (2016). doi:10.1787/eco_outlook-v2016-2-graph80-fr

12 Gobierno de Costa Rica, MINAE & MOPT. Plan Nacional de Transporte Eléctrico 2018-2030. (2019).

13 Gobierno de Costa Rica. Ley 9518: Incentivos y promoción para el transport eléctrico. Sistema Costarricense de Información Jurídica (2017).

14 Ministerio de Ambiente y Energia Costa Rica. Estrategia para la ganadería baja en carbono en Costa Rica. 110 (2015).

15 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches.

16 Least-cost pathways analysed here assumes already a certain amount of carbon dioxide removal technologies, in this case bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS).


Costa Ricaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Net zero GHG excl. LULUCF*
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
NDC (unconditional)
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
NDC (unconditional)
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 2015

Energy system transformation

The transport sector has the biggest role to play in decarbonising Costa Rica’s energy system. While the power sector is already almost fully decarbonised, Costa Rica’s transport sector is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels and is the largest emitter of CO₂ emissions in the country.

1.5°C compatible pathways would require the country to reach net zero CO₂ emissions excluding LULUCF by 2040. This would require a large shift towards electrification of the transport sector. 1.5°C compatible pathways indicate a share of renewables in total primary energy share (TPES) between 51-78% by 2030 and 88-98% by 2050, with lower shares of renewables corresponding to higher reliance on negative emissions from technologies such as BECCS to compensate for ongoing fossil fuel emissions. However, this is very unlikely to happen in Costa Rica. In comparison, renewables made up only 47% of Costa Rica’s TPES in 2019.5 Only scenarios which achieve above a 95% share of renewables in TPES by 2050 completely avoid the use of BECCS.16


Costa Ricaʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
SSP1 High CDR reliance
Low energy demand
High energy demand - Low CDR reliance
  • Renewables incl. biomass
  • Unabated fossil
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS

Costa Ricaʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for Costa Rica. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
9 to 12
4 to 7
−3 to 6
Relative to reference year in %
−41 to −18%
−69 to −52%
−120 to −61%
Total CO₂
3 to 5
−1 to 1
−7 to 0
2038 to 2052
Relative to reference year in %
−53 to −22%
−112 to −83%
−212 to −98%