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  • Cristian Cuta Gómez

Costa Rica's Sustainability Efforts towards a Circular Economy - Recent Developments

Costa Rica enjoys a wide international reputation in terms of sustainability; its lush forests, paradisiacal coasts, and environmentally friendly practices have made the country an example of sustainability that has earned the Global Climate Action Award in 2020 for its Environmental Services Program. It is a pioneering initiative throughout the region that promotes the conservation of forest ecosystems. One of the most lauded measures adopted by the government in 2021 was the ban on the use and entry of single-use plastics into Protected Wilderness Areas. It is but one example of how Costa Rica is implementing policies and legislation to become a more sustainable nation.

The Environmental Services Program (PSA) is a financial mechanism that promotes the conservation and protection of the country's forests. In addition, this initiative is intended to combat land degradation. This program, which is carried out through the National Fund for Forest Financing (FONAFIFO), aims to protect the primary forest, allow the secondary forest to flourish, and promote forest plantations. More than 18,500 families have benefited from this program and more than 1.3 million hectares of forest have been protected thanks to this direct investment in rural areas.

According to the Sustainable Development Report 2021 (SDR20201) which included data from more than 160 states, Costa Rica ranks 50th in the world among the most sustainable countries, while it ranks 4th in Latin America, only surpassed by Cuba, Uruguay and Chile. On a scale of 100, the country obtained a score of 73.5 points and a performance index close to 80% in its well-being strategies for the population. This list is headed by the Nordic countries Finland, Sweden and Denmark. The report provides a detailed assessment of how close nations are to achieving the SDGs by 2030 by rating their performance on each indicator. The recognition of the country was due to the fulfilment of SDG 7.


Costa Rica has made enormous efforts over the past ten years to achieve its current sustainability status. For instance, for the nation to join the OECD as the 38th member, it had to comply with several environmental demands. These were important nuances that the country incorporated into its legislation to align itself with the other member countries. The actions included modifications in the following areas:

  • Implementation of the Polluter Pays Principle and use of economic instruments

  • Environmental information

  • Environmental assessment and integrated pollution prevention and control

  • Environmental performance of the government

  • Material flows and resource productivity

  • Water management

  • Biodiversity

  • Noise pollution

  • Transfrontier pollution

  • Coastal zone management

  • Energy and air pollution

  • Transport

  • Tourism

  • Environment and development assistance

  • Waste management

  • Transboundary movements of waste


According to estimated figures from the UN in a 2018 report, the implementation of the circular economy could reduce between 80 and 99% of industrial waste in some sectors and between 79 and 99% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, thus helping in the fight against climate change.

The Costa Rican administration is fully aware of the connection between the circular economy and decarbonization. For this reason, and in collaboration with national and international entities, it launched in the last quarter of 2021 a Guide to facilitate the transition towards a circular economy aimed mainly at local governments. The guide was developed by the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) and the Institute for Municipal Development and Advisory (IFAM), supported by resources from the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) and executed by the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Centre (CATIE). The main objective of the guide is to disseminate an approach to what the circular economy is and provide local actors with the tools and guidelines on how to materialize the implementation of the circular economy through actions at different levels: public administration, social and business fields.

Given the urgent need to catalyse the implementation of international commitments adopted by Costa Rica both at the level of decarbonization of the country and at the level of climate change, this guide was developed to generate credibility in its intentions to transition to a circular economy. As a first step, the document specifically summarizes theoretical aspects of the circular economy and performs an analysis of the link between it and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as practical aspects that seek to enable the action of local governments in Costa Rica around circularity.

The recommendations and concepts contained in the manual have been prepared to guide Costa Rican cities in their implementation of concrete actions to improve the social well-being of their inhabitants, reduce their CO2 emissions by migrating to environmentally friendly consumption and production patterns, and reduce the extraction of resources in their production and construction processes.

To materialize the short-term objectives set by Costa Rica at the circular economy level, the country will receive an investment of 10.3 million dollars from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in the next 5 years. The main goal of the project is to achieve decarbonization in the Greater Metropolitan Area (GAM) through sustainable integrated urban planning. It proposes reforms of obsolete laws, construction of cycle paths and green sidewalks, sustainable mobility and greening of 2,000 hectares, in coordination with local governments of the Greater Metropolitan Area and entities with experience in the field, as well as the promotion of the circular economy.

Costa Rica does not have prior experience in promoting these forms of production, nor is there regulation as developed as in other countries. The project will map existing circular economy initiatives, and inject funds into ventures of this type that prioritise the employment of women, in areas such as waste management.


Latin America has in its favour the fact that it is a very extensive and heterogeneous region, but with a common language. Environmental challenges in the medium and short term are global issues that require joint efforts. That is why in 2021 the Circular Economy Coalition of Latin America and the Caribbean was created to serve as a platform for the exchange of best circular economy practices and promote tripartite cooperation between society, the private sector, and the government. One of the missions also seeks to increase knowledge and understanding of the circular economy and facilitate training and technical assistance for the development of public policies for the circular economy and sustainable consumption and production.

The coalition currently has 16 member countries and is coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and led by a steering committee made up of four high-level government representatives from member countries who change from time to time, in addition to bringing together eight strategic partners:

1- The Climate Technology Center and Network (CTCN)

2- The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

3- The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)

4- The Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS)

5- The Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy (PACE)

6- United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)

7- The World Economic Forum (WEF)

8- UN Environment Program (UNEP)

1. Create a common regional vision and agenda on circular economy.

2. Increase promotion and awareness at the local, national, regional and global levels.

3. Facilitate South-South cooperation and North-South cooperation.

4. Development of tools and indicators.

5. Facilitate and offer training opportunities.

6. Implement pilot projects and promote the strengthening of alliances and collaborations.

7. Support the mobilization of resources to adopt the circular economy in the region.

8. Facilitate cooperation and share knowledge with other actors.

The Coalition released a report at the start of 2022 to coordinate and bolster regional collaboration to direct upcoming projects. To encourage a strong recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the publication is tailored to the distinctive qualities and traditions of the area and focuses on moving away from linear and extractive economic models that harm the ecosystem.

To create this document, dozens of government officials from the region, as well as various representatives of relevant international institutions, companies, and academics, were consulted to collectively imagine the future of the region: promoting a circular economy that works at the global level. It is, therefore, an opportunity for the region to position itself as a key actor and become a leader in the global transition towards a low-carbon economy aligned with the SDGs.


Unquestionably, Costa Rica has been joining efforts in recent years to fulfil the adopted international commitments. Examples such as its access to the OECD and the CE Coalition are proof of this. However, it also faces some challenges regarding its circular economy goals. To begin with, access to financing is essential since it is necessary to promote circular economy actions and make its benefits visible. Banks can be allies if they glimpse the revenues possible with the circular economy.

As pointed out by the OECD, the fiscal situation in Costa Rica remains quite vulnerable and the sustainability of great social, economic and environmental achievements may be threatened by deficits in the balance. Even today, in 2023, the gap with the most advanced economies remains enormous, largely due to social inequality and low productivity. One of the main challenges that Costa Rica has to tackle to reach the goal of being a decarbonized economy by 2050 is to reduce emissions in the transportation sector, for instance.


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