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Costa Rica Reforestation Efforts Contemplate New Methods To Ensure Success

Costa Rica reforestation efforts have transformed the country from one of the most heavily deforested nations in the 1980s to a thriving ecotourism destination. This has provided travelers with an abundance of opportunities to explore its rich marine reserves and cloud forests in just one day. Costa Rica reforestation efforts have made it a top destination for eco-friendly tourism and its commitment to protecting nature has earned it a global reputation. 

Costa Rica, renowned for its lush jungles and abundant biodiversity, now faces a difficult dilemma: while reforestation is an urgent environmental priority, reducing the use of fossil fuels is also essential.

Government Funding For Reforestation

The government of Costa Rica has been relying on fuel tax revenue to fund a program that pays landowners not to cut down trees for 25 years. However, this source of funding is anticipated to diminish by 2050 as the country moves towards net-zero emissions through the shift from public and private transportation to electricity. As such, the government is actively searching for alternative methods of financing the program.

Those could include implementing new taxes or adjusting the existing ones. Tourists who come to experience the beauty of Costa Rica’s wildlife such as toucans, frogs, and may soon find themselves paying a charge on their hotel bill that goes towards aiding forest conservation. Costa Rica will also continue to urge developed countries, which are responsible for the majority of global pollution, to provide compensation for countries like Costa Rica that are doing more than their part to store carbon. 

Last year, President Rodrigo Chaves of Costa Rica announced an investment of $16.4 million from the World Bank towards reforestation in the country. This is part of a larger program that aims to bring in a total of $60 million by 2025 for forests that are reducing carbon emissions, with the aim of doubling the amount of protected forest in the country.

Costa Rica Reforestation Efforts – National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO)

Jorge Mario Rodríguez Zúñiga, director of the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO), believes that this financial contribution is a step in the right direction for the international community to do its part in preserving forests around the world.

He expressed his hope that one day soon he would be able to declare that all privately held forests in Costa Rica are receiving incentives for their protection. “If it is beneficial to the world, then it’s only fair that the world should contribute towards conservation efforts,” he said.

Demand for agricultural land had a drastic impact on Costa Rica’s forest cover in the 1980s, reducing it to just 21% of the country’s total territory. At the same time, an estimated 125,000 acres were cleared every year. Despite investing heavily to establish national parks, the government realized it had to take action to protect privately held forests too as it sought to promote ecotourism.

Costa Rica Reforestation Efforts

Costa Rica Reforestation Efforts – Payments for Environmental Services (PSA)

In 1996, a forestry law was passed that saw the creation of the Payments for Environmental Services (PSA) program, which was principally funded by the gas tax. This program provides monetary compensation to landowners at a rate of roughly $60 per 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare) every year in return for them conserving their forest land.

Tourism in Costa Rica rapidly increased over the decades, to the point that it now dominates the country’s economy. In 1982, agriculture accounted for 25% of its gross domestic product (GDP), but by 2019 this had fallen to just 4.2%. This shift has been accompanied by a dramatic rise in visits to protected natural areas across Costa Rica, from around 500,000 in 1990 to over 1.7 million by 2019. 

Floripe Córdoba and Siegfried Kussmaul had made the unorthodox decision to allow the 8 acres near San Jose, formerly used for coffee cultivation and cattle raising, to be reclaimed by the forest – a move that puzzled some of their neighbors. The program has since seen them reap an annual income of $300, a largely symbolic sum from their standpoint given that they are comfortable on Kussmaul’s professor pension.

Córdoba, a former tourism guide, takes daily strolls in the forest and speaks fondly of her favorite trees and the butterflies that flit past. She believes strongly in conservation, noting that “When I conserve I let all of the insects, down to the smallest, the fauna and everything there is in the forest, have its place.” She recognizes the importance of safeguarding nature and all of its inhabitants for future generations. 

Costa Rica And The World Bank

The World Bank money is available to landowners who are not currently enrolled in Costa Rica’s program. However, the funding only covers carbon sequestration and does not account for other forms of environmental services. This raises the question of whether $18 per 2 1/2 acres (1 hectare) will prove to be an attractive incentive for potential participants.

FUNDECOR, the Foundation for the Development of the Central Volcanic Mountain Chain, has been a key player in encouraging landowners to sign up for the PSA program for many years. Despite the decline in funding that would come from reduced fossil fuels, Executive Director Mario Piedra welcomed the transition but noted that alternative sources of funding must be explored beyond the World Bank program. 

He lamented that the lack of understanding has resulted in the meager amount of $7 or $18 per hectare per year for improving the sustainability of these areas. He further added, “This is not enough to ensure long-term sustainability.” Thus, a significantly higher investment is necessary for ensuring lasting changes.

Rodríguez, director of FONAFIFO, acknowledged that $18 is not much but declared that the organization is working on finding supplemental funding to be able to offer payment for biodiversity as an environmental service. Meanwhile, the program provides reimbursement to those who had verifiable forest land dating back to 2018.

Officials are striving to make it simpler for landowners to register through a website, with the government frequently utilizing satellite imagery as opposed to an on-site visit to validate the presence of the woods. Where PSA necessitates landowners to procure a forester in order to monitor their forest — at a cost of up to 18% of the government payments — the World Bank money does not require this.

Rodríguez stated that FONAFIFO is determined to find a way to continue payments past 2024. He and Piedra are exploring the potential of accessing private capital markets in order to develop a system that would reward those who support conservation initiatives.

FONAFIFO has been in discussions with Costa Rican tourism officials, as the industry is one of the key beneficiaries of forest conservation. Unfortunately, no tax currently exists for this purpose – and due to current economic challenges arising from the pandemic, now may not be the right time to implement one, according to Rodríguez.

Costa Rica Reforestation Efforts – Support For The Tax

Last year, an indication of tourists’ potential willingness to support a tax for Costa Rica reforestation efforts was seen in the successful fundraising from a voluntary program that gave them the opportunity to offset their vacation’s emissions, raising $600,000.

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