Costa Rica made headlines here in the U.S. recently as news media picked up on a a March 16 news release from national grid operator Grupo ICE that renewable energy resources supplied 100 percent of the Central American nation's electricity needs for the first 75 days of 2015.
The primary driver of deforestation worldwide, it's estimated that agricultural development accounts for about one-quarter of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well taking a heavy toll in terms of soil erosion and degradation of water resources and wildlife habitat.
Tropical forest conservation has been a hallmark of Costa Rica's ecosystems-based approach to sustainable socioeconomic development. Now, Costa Rican farmers are making use of a new “climate-smart” agriculture software tool developed by the World Bank and UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
An easy-to-use software tool for climate-smart agriculture
Providing a means for the world's farmers – smallholder farmers in developing countries in particular – a simple, effective means to track, measure and account for GHG emissions is a prerequisite for developing more climate-smart and environmentally benign methods of producing food.
Developed by the World Bank and FAO, the EX- Ante Carbon Accounting Tool (EX-ACT) “is an appraisal system developed by FAO providing ex-ante estimates of the impact of agriculture and forestry development projects, programs and policies on the carbon-balance,” the organizations explain.
“The carbon-balance is defined as the net balance from all greenhouse gases (GHGs) expressed in CO2 equivalent that were emitted or sequestered due to project implementation as compared to a business-as-usual scenario.”
According to the World Bank, the climate-smart agriculture (CSA) GHG accounting software it has developed with the FAO “will help identify management practices and opportunities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also providing improved food security, more resilient production systems, and better rural livelihoods.
“In practical terms, greenhouse gas emissions data can support farmers in adopting less carbon-intensive practices, guiding low-emissions development, assessing product supply chains, certifying sustainable agriculture practices, and informing consumers on the carbon footprint of their choices.”
Accompanying EXACT, which is free for download, World Bank and FAO have developed an e-learning course that is intended to bring prospective end-users up to speed on how it works and how to use it effectively.
Clean energy and climate-smart agriculture
Costa Rica, and Costa Ricans, have done very well for themselves by pursuing a more ecologically sensitive and benign form of socioeconomic development. That relies fundamentally on taking advantage of the country's bounty of hydro, geothermal, and more recently, wind and solar energy resources.
Agriculture and ecotourism, as opposed to heavy industry, are central planks in Costa Rica's economy. As the World Bank points out, a major obstacle in building a nation's capacity to effectively reduce GHG emissions and ecological degradation from agriculture has been “the lack of functional tools that people can actually use: Tools that work across scales and agricultural land use systems, help prioritize mitigation actions and are flexible when it comes to requirements for country-specific data.
“Useful greenhouse gas accounting tools should include confidence thresholds in greenhouse gas emission estimates and offer understandable metrics for tracking greenhouse gas emissions. Equally important is the need to build technical capacity in land use monitoring and greenhouse gas accounting, especially in developing countries.”
This is precisely what EXACT has been developed to address, as the following video attests:
Largely dependent on hydro power, and hence vulnerable to declines and changes in precipitation, Costa Rica has been tapping into its geothermal resources as a means of supplying comparatively clean renewable energy.
Compared to Germany – where solar energy produced as much as 50 percent of the heavily industrialized country's daily electricity needs last year – it's estimated that Costa Rica gets twice as much sunshine. Costa Rican non-profit Acesolar is working to see solar energy plays a greater role as Costa Rica looks to diversify the mix of renewable energy resources it relies on.
"Solar is a reliable source, independent from climate change, with a minimum environmental impact," Acesolar Executive Director Sofía Blanco, told Fast Company. "Drought is synonymous with crisis in many areas, not just energy," she says. "That's why we promote the diversification of the energy matrix."
Costa Rica joins Albania, Iceland and Paraguay as nations in which clean, renewable energy is meeting all power needs. The small Central American nation's efforts (population about that of Alabama's) could go a long way by serving as something of a model as nations around the world strive to come up with alternatives to industrialization and consumption-driven economic and development models that have served as the template for systems of political economy in countries and regions as diverse as the U.S., E.U., Russia and China.
*Image credits: 1) World Bank, FAO