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Costa Rica Could Permanently Ban Fossil Fuel Exploration


General view of the National Park Tapamti in Orosi, 80 miles (128km) of San Jose May 25, 2007. (REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate)
Costa Rica Could Permanently Ban Fossil Fuel Exploration
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Costa Rican lawmakers are considering a law this week that would permanently ban fossil fuel exploration and production. The popular tourist destination is trying to have zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Costa Rica started efforts to ban fossil fuel exploration in 2002 under President Abel Pacheco. This ban was supposed to end in 2014, but was later extended until 2050. The new bill, supported by President Carlos Alvarado’s administration, would take the ban further by making it permanent.

Christiana Figueres is a former U.N. climate official and former Costa Rican government official who has supported the bill. She told Reuters, "Our concern now is to remove the temptation, either today or at any time tomorrow, for there to be any current or future government who might think that returning to fossil fuels of the past century is actually a good idea for our country.”

Only a few other countries have banned fossil fuel exploration and production. Belize, for example, bans exploration and drilling in all its waters. France also hopes to have a similar ban by 2040.

Costa Rica has rich plant and animal life in its jungles and coastal areas. It has never explored or extracted fossil fuels and gets 99 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, including hydropower, which uses fast-running water to make electricity. The country of 5 million people aims to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Net-zero means that the greenhouse gas emitted is no more than the amount removed from the atmosphere.

A permanent ban would "send a powerful message to the world," Costa Rican lawmaker Paola Vega said.

General view shows the Cachi hydroelectric dam in Costa Rica August 4, 2021. REUTERS/Mayela Lopez
General view shows the Cachi hydroelectric dam in Costa Rica August 4, 2021. REUTERS/Mayela Lopez

A pro-exploration movement has been trying since 2019 to gain support for a public vote on oil and gas exploration. The bill for a permanent fossil fuel ban has faced opposition by some politicians who argue that the resources could help the Central American country’s economy. Costa Rica’s gross domestic product fell 8.7 percent in 2020 during the pandemic. A public vote on fossil fuel exploration, however, has never been brought.

Figueres was one of the lead planners of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. She said fossil fuel extraction for economic recovery "makes absolutely no sense.” Costa Rica’s fossil fuels have so far not proven to be commercially usable.

"Were we to have them, we probably wouldn't see any income from them until at least 10 to 15 years from now, when the demand for oil and gas is actually going to be even less than it is now," Figueres said.

Lawmakers will discuss the bill this week. But a vote may not come before October, one lawmaker told Reuters.

Figueres said she believes the ban has a good chance at being passed.

"To have small countries actually take the lead is very important,” she said. "Just because Costa Rica is tiny, it doesn't mean that we don't have a voice."

I’m Dan Novak.

Cassandra Garrison reported this story for Reuters. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Susan Shand was the editor.

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Words in This Story

fossil fuel – n. a natural fuel such as coal or gas, formed in the geological past from the remains of living organisms

emissions n. the act of producing or sending out something (such as energy or gas) from a source

temptation n. a strong urge or desire to have or do something

extract v. to remove (something) by pulling it out or cutting it out

income n. money that is earned from work, investments, business, etc.

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