Washington, March 10 : With a small but growing number of countries trying to reduce or offset their emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming, Costa Rica has aimed to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the quest for "carbon neutrality" seeks to balance the amount of carbon dioxide a country releases by burning fossil fuels with the amount that it captures or offsets by, for example, planting trees.
At a United Nations climate conference last month, the U.N.'s Environment Program launched a new online network of countries engaged in the carbon-neutral endeavor.
At the 154-nation talks, Monaco, the host country, became the fifth to commit to carbon neutrality, joining Norway, New Zealand, Iceland, and Costa Rica.
Though the small Central American country of Costa Rica faces a host of problems, from illegal logging to overdevelopment fueled by tourism, it is likely to become the first carbon-neutral country in the world.
"There are advantages that Costa Rica offers to becoming carbon neutral," said Manuel Ramirez, Costa Rica director for the environmental nonprofit Conservation International.
For example, over 80 percent of Costa Rica's energy is already generated through renewable sources, such as water and wind; and the country's rich tropical biosphere makes the environmental stakes especially high there.
Slightly smaller than West Virginia, Costa Rica is believed to house about 5 percent of the world's plant and animal species.
"Because Costa Rica is so biologically intense, we recognize that we have a special responsibility," said Roberto Dobles, the minister of environment and energy for Costa Rica.
According to Dobles, greener business practices will ultimately lead to a greener bottom line, especially in the tourism industry.
The region is advertising itself as the next eco-friendly luxury hot spot, and several dozen high-end hotel chains are planning green resorts along the coast.
"We have an opportunity to become the first carbon-neutral tourist destination," said Dobles. "We want Costa Rica to be a guilt-free location to visit, and that will be good for business," he added.
As part of its quest for carbon neutrality, Costa Rica's government compensates landowners for planting and protecting trees on their property, since the trees help capture carbon, protect watersheds, and preserve scenic beauty.
The Costa Rican government also recently signed an agreement with the United States that results in one of the largest "debt-for-nature" swaps in history.
According to the agreement, the United States will forgive 26 million dollars of Costa Rica's debt, freeing up that money for the country to invest in tropical forest conservation programs over the next 16 years.