To highlight a new short documentary by The Economist magazine called “Climate Change: Can Money Stop Deforestation?” we want to highlight the steps that Costa Rica has taken to combat deforestation and how it has benefitted from environmentally-focused solutions. 

Costa Rica’s forests are some of the more biodiverse in the world. Yet, the story of Costa Rica’s former deforestation was alarming. Up until the late 1980s, Costa Rica was the poster child for deforestation. Farmers were incentivized to cut down forests in order to support the agriculture export industry. People did not understand the value of the land and its resources, which they saw as inexhaustible.

Between 1940 and 1987 the proportion of land in Costa Rica plummeted from 75% to 21%. According to the documentary, “Costa Rica’s experience is not unique in this way. Humans have been cutting trees for thousands of years but there has been a rapid acceleration in the last 100 years.”

Estimates from the United Nations show that around 10 million hectares of forest are being lost each year. That is the equivalent of 27 football fields every minute. Fewer trees mean less carbon dioxide is absorbed from the atmosphere. On top of this, the forest’s destruction adds more emissions, accelerating climate change.

Rather than try to stop developing countries from using their resources for economic benefits, these countries are incentivized to protect and restore their forests. Costa Rica has accepted this mission and has become a front-runner in the repopulation of trees and building sustainable industries around reforestation.

As a nation, Costa Rica is also able to generate carbon credits to give to donor countries and companies that provide a reward for conserving forests. Using historical deforestation rates to predict how much forest a country is likely to lose in the future, donors pay a sum for each tonne of carbon dioxide reabsorbed by the conserved forest. They in turn receive carbon credits used to offset their emissions elsewhere. Any forest that is conserved is judged against this benchmark. 

Costa Rica’s National Forestry Fund (FONAFIFO) was launched in the late 1990s by the Costa Rican government to assist in “the recovery of deforested areas and the necessary technological changes in the use and industrialization of forest resources.” 

Landowners in Costa Rica are paid by the government to restore and conserve forests, which has helped to create new and sustainable economic opportunities. Every hectare of forest that is restored or kept intact generates $80 per year from the National Forestry Fund.

This fund is paid for by citizens who are benefiting from the services provided by healthy forests like carbon storage, the protection of vital food chains, and clean water.

Costa Rica’s Ministry Of Environment came up with the National Forestry Fund and decided to add a tax on water usage and fuel consumption to generate revenue for the payment of environmental services. This made Costa Rica one of the first developing countries to put a tax on carbon.

So far, $500,000,000 USD has been invested in the conservation of Costa Rica’s forests from this fund. This has helped forest cover in Costa Rica to grow from 21% in 1987 at the peak of the country’s deforestation to more than 50% today.

Along with reforestation came new opportunities for profitable and sustainable industries. Nature-based tourism has become a bigger portion of jobs in rural Costa Rica, representing around 8% of the GDP (10.8% in 2019).

In Costa Rica’s past, there was a strong focus on unsustainable agricultural production. Since it began conservation, it has needed to increase food imports as a result of cutting back on agricultural land. However, the country’s GDP has risen an average of 4.2% per year since the peak of deforestation in 1987. Keeping nature going keeps the economy growing.

Conservation has naturally spilled over beyond just the forests into biodiversity and environmental conservation. In 2013, the Minister of Environment led a movement to reinforce the idea of interacting with biodiversity in botanical parks in a natural way. The idea was that no animal would be in captivity unless it was being rescued or saved.

Costa Rica’s landmass accounts for only 0.03% of the entire planet’s surface. However, this tiny nation is home to approximately 5% of the species worldwide and, as a result, is listed among the 20 richest countries in terms of biodiversity per area. It is possible to find more species per square mile in Costa Rica than in larger countries such as Brazil or Colombia.

Just on land, Costa Rica is estimated to host half a million species. About 8,500 plants, 220 reptiles, 160 amphibians, 205 mammals, and 850 bird species have been identified here so far. There are more bird species in Costa Rica than in all of the United States and Canada combined.

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