How might climate change affect Costa Rica?

A big-picture look at how climate change might impact Costa Rica.

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Costa Rica’s eco-friendly ideals are both a driver of tourism and, depending on who you ask, a sound economic investment.

Even as Costa Rica pursues decarbonization, experts say human activity will continue to provoke a warming trend with global consequences. With an eye on Costa Rica, let’s take a look at how climate change might impact life here:

More severe weather

In general, Central America could increasingly suffer hurricanes, heavy rains, floods and droughts. The Costa Rican government projects “exponential growth” in repair costs to infrastructure damaged by extreme weather.

Last year, two major hurricanes — Eta and Iota — slammed into Central America, narrowly sparing Costa Rica from direct hits. UNICEF estimates 9.2 million people across the region were impacted by Eta and Iota’s heavy rainfall, flash flooding and landslides. The storms caused billions of dollars in damages and were part of the most active Atlantic Hurricane season on record.

No one storm (or hurricane season) can be blamed entirely on climate change. However, warm water fuels hurricanes, and climate change is creating warmer oceans.

Longer and hotter dry seasons may also be an issue, particularly in Guanacaste, which is already part of a Central American dry corridor. It’s believed that climate change will exacerbate droughts, threatening the availability of water for hydroelectric generation and irrigation systems in that Costa Rican province.

Ecological impacts

Temperature changes have serious ecological consequences, which would be significant in a country with so much biodiversity.

“To us, one degree higher or lower isn’t much, but to the species that are already adapted, one degree can mean death,” said Mercedes Díaz, who manages environmental education at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.

Deforestation and rising temperatures could cause the disappearance of Costa Rica’s world-famous Monteverde cloud forest entirely.

“Warming is altering the formation of clouds in tropical mountains, which reduces fog and drizzles, endangering the cloud forest,” wrote the Tropical Science Center, an organization that does ecological research in Costa Rica.

As cloud layers lift because of warmer sea surfaces, higher temperatures and increased dry days will have untold impacts on everything from fungi to endemic birds, reptiles and amphibian species.

Rising oceans

Some coastal communities in Costa Rica are particularly vulnerable to rising oceans, and examples of erosion are already evident on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

An excellent investigative piece from Ojo al Clima and Punto y Aparte detailed the current inaction from local governments in the face of rising sea levels.

“This state inaction endangers hundreds of families, most of them living in poverty, who have nowhere to go,” the report reads.

Eight coasts are likely to be permanently flooded if the ocean rises 50 cm (19.5 inches): Quepos, Caldera, Playas del Coco, Tamarindo, Sámara, Golfito, Moín and Cahuita.

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