Jim McMahon/Mapman®

The Central American nation of Costa Rica recently announced the most ambitious plan in the world to tackle climate change. 

Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado says the country will effectively reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2050. It is the first nation to officially set such a goal and outline a detailed plan to achieve it. Scientists warn that carbon emissions must be drastically cut to avoid climate change’s catastrophic effects.

Carbon dioxide is one of the main gases produced when people burn fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, to generate electricity. These gases trap the sun’s heat close to Earth’s surface. 

For more than a century, humans have produced carbon emissions at record levels. The result: The average global temperature is increasing. In some places, rainfall is getting heavier. Polar ice is melting and sea levels are rising.

Costa Rica already has a head start on its green goals. Its electricity is generated almost entirely by renewable resources, such as hydropower. But shifting to vehicles that run on renewable fuel may be a challenge.

As a small country of 5 million people, Costa Rica is responsible for just a fraction of global carbon emissions. But Alvarado hopes that his nation’s zero-carbon plan will become a model for other countries to follow. 

“We can be that example,” he says. “We have to inspire people.”