Carbon Neutrality Plan
Costa Rica announced it's plans to become the world's first carbon neutral country by 2030.
At the heart of the Costa Rica's anti-carbon efforts are payments that compensate landowners for growing trees to capture carbon and protect watersheds.
The government also plans payments to protect wildlife habitat and scenic beauty.
The program, launched in 1997 and funded by a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline and by loans and grants, now pays out about US$15 million a year to nearly 8,000 property owners. The EU says it will cut emissions 20-30 percent by 2020. Some other countries in the world, mainly in Africa, are virtually carbon-neutral, because poverty prevents them from emitting more greenhouse gases.California aims to cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
Costa Rica already has a head start, as the vast majority of its electricity is generated by water, wind and geothermal heat. It will focus its efforts on transportation, industry and farming, and take steps such as paying landowners to grow trees, protect watersheds, and preserve wildlife habitats and "natural beauty."
Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said the tiny, jungle-cloaked Central American nation would clean up its fossil fuel-fired power plants, promote hybrid vehicles and increase tree planting to balance its emissions.
"The goal is to be carbon neutral," Dobles told Reuters. "We'd like to do it in the next 20 years." He said Costa Rica would also eliminate net emissions of other greenhouse gases.
Costa Rica is a leader on green issues, with protected areas like national parks and biological reserves covering more than a quarter of its territory.
The first few months of a tree's in-the-ground life are crucial. In the rainy season, from July to November, the grass and weeds grow quickly and can overwhelm the young trees if left unattended. Not only must there be a clear circle ("rueda") around the sapling, but also the ground must be free of encroaching roots. Fertilization must be continued throughout the first three years, and clearing, with a machete, is required at least once every 4-6 weeks in the lush "invierno" or rainy season.
Costa Rica's tropical rainforests have an allure that abates discomfort. They are places of peace and renewal, like a vast vaulted cathedral, mysterious, strangely silent, and of majestic proportions. As one writer says: "a fourteenth century stonemason would have felt at home [in the rainforest], with its buttressed, moss-columned, towering trees and dark recesses."
The rich rainforest green backdrops the jewel colors of its many inhabitants. Sit still awhile and the unseen beasts and birds will get used to your presence and emerge from the shadows. Enormous morpho butterflies float by, flashing like bright neon signs. Is that vine really moving? More likely it's a brilliantly costumed tree python, so green it is almost iridescent, draped in sensuous coils on a branch.
Plunging deep into the forest, you are soon struck by how much variety there is. While in temperate forests distinct species of flora congregate neatly into distinctive plant "neighborhoods" with few other species interspersed, in the rainforest you may pass one example of a particular tree species, then not see another for half a mile. In between, however, are hundreds of other species. In the rainforest, too, you'll notice that life is piled upon life--literally. The firm and unyielding forest floor is a "dark factory of decomposition," where bacteria, mold, and insects work unceasingly, degrading the constant rain of leaf litter and dislodged fruits into nutrient molecules.
Costa Rica's shorelines are home to five species of mangroves. These pioneer land builders thrive at the interface of land and sea, forming a stabilizing tangle that fights tidal erosion and reclaims land from the water. The irrepressible, reddish-barked, shrubby mangroves rise from the dark water on interlocking stilt roots. Small brackish streams and labyrinthine creeks wind among them like snakes, sometimes interconnecting, sometimes petering out in narrow culs-de-sac, sometimes opening suddenly into broad lagoons. A few clear channels may run through the rich and redolent world of the mangroves, but the trees grow so thickly over much of it that you cannot force even a small boat between them.
Mangroves are what botanists call halophytes, plants that thrive in salty conditions. Although they do not require salt (they in fact grow better in fresh water), they thrive where no other tree can. Costa Rica's young rivers have short and violent courses which keep silt and volcanic ash churned up and suspended, so that a great deal of it is carried out of the mountains onto the coastal alluvial plains. The nutrient-rich mud generates algae and other small organisms that form the base of the marine food chain. Food is delivered to the estuaries every day from both the sea and the land so those few plants--and creatures--that can survive here flourish in immense numbers. And their sustained health is vital to the health of other marine ecosystems.
The nutrients the mangrove seeks lie not deep in the acid mud but on its surface, where they have been deposited by the tides. There is no oxygen to be had in the mud either: estuarine mud is so fine-grained that air cannot diffuse through it, and the gases produced by the decomposition of the organic debris within it stay trapped until your footsteps release them, producing a strong whiff of rotten eggs (the mud also clings so tenaciously it can suck the boots from your feet). Hence, there is no point in the mangroves sending down deep roots. Instead, the mangroves send out peculiar aerial roots, like spider's legs, to form a horizontal platform that sits like a raft, maintaining a hold on the glutinous mud and giving the mangroves the appearance of walking on water. The mangroves draw oxygen from the air through small patches of spongy tissue on their bark.
Orchids in Costa Rica
At right is Costa Rica's national flower - the stunning orchid Guaria Morada, Cattleya Skinneri. Out of the 1,360 species of orchids that grow in Costa Rica, 386 of them are found nowhere else in the world. Almost all of them are epiphytes. Costa Rica, in fact, provides much of the world's supply of cultivated orchids.
Not only are orchids the largest family of flowering plants, they're also the most diverse: poke around with magnifying glass in hand and you'll come across species with flowers less than one millimeter across. Others, like the native Phragmipedium caudatum, have pendulant petals that can reach more than half a meter. Some flower for only one day. Others will last several weeks. Orchid lovers should head for the cloud forests, for the greatest diversity exists in humid--not wet--midelevation environments where they are abundant as tropical epiphytes (constituting 88% of orchid species). One biologist found 47 different orchid species growing on a single tree.