Gabrielle Mérite

Costa Rica's Carbon-Neutral Future

Almost every country on the planet has pledged to slash carbon emissions to address the effects of climate change. A RAND study found that Costa Rica may be leading the way. The analysis showed that Costa Rica's National Decarbonization Plan—which aims for net-zero emissions by 2050—would likely succeed. Additionally, the investments in carbon-cutting measures would deliver a return of about 110 percent.

In her final visualization as RAND artist-in-residence, Gabrielle Mérite wanted to help bring Costa Rica's carbon-neutral future to life. She was inspired by the Solarpunk art movement, which focuses on visualizing a more sustainable world.

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Illustrated graph shows how Costa Rica could reach net-zero emissions by 2050 under its National Decarbonization Plan. Achieving net-zero emissions is estimated to create a net economic benefit of $40.9 billion, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

Costa Rica's plan to reach zero emissions by 2050 would require up-front investments of around $37 billion. But it would provide an estimated $78 billion in savings, a return of about $41 billion or 110 percent.

Gabrielle Mérite created an isometric cube to represent each sector of Costa Rica's economy. These three-dimensional shapes illustrate the difference in carbon emissions (and, in one case, carbon sequestration) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica's National Decarbonization Plan. The net economic benefit or loss resulting from decarbonization changes is highlighted in a circle hovering next to each cube, and futuristic visuals show how each economic sector might transform over time.

Illustrated data visualization showing the 95% carbon emissions decrease in Costa Rica’s transportation sector from 2018-2050 and the $19 billion net benefit that cutting carbon would provide. The decrease is shown through the slope of a 3D cube filled with smoke and the budget by a light circle in a blue sky. At the top of the cube, the future of the country’s transportation is illustrated with an electric truck on a highway lined with grass, and an electric bus driving along a clean sidewalk with trees and solar powered bus stops, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

Illustrated data visualization showing the 26% carbon emissions decrease in Costa Rica’s agriculture and livestock sector from 2018-2050 and the $3.2 billion net benefit that cutting carbon emissions would provide. The decrease is shown through the slope of a 3D cube filled with smoke and the budget by a light circle in a blue sky. At the top of the cube, the future of the country’s agriculture field is illustrated with cows grazing grass under a large tree, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

Illustrated data visualization showing the 21% carbon emissions decrease in Costa Rica’s industrial sector from 2018-2050 and the $2 billion net benefit that cutting carbon emissions would provide. The decrease is shown through the slope of a 3D cube filled with smoke and the budget by a light circle in a blue sky. At the top of the cube, the future of the country’s industry is illustrated with an abandoned cement manufacture building, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

Illustrated data visualization showing the 57% carbon emissions decrease in Costa Rica’s waste management sector from 2018-2050 and the $0.7 billion net economic loss over that same time period cost. The decrease in emissions is shown through the slope of a 3D cube filled with smoke and the budget by a light circle in a blue sky. At the top of the cube, the future of the country’s waste is illustrated with a green garbage truck picking up recycling bins on a clean sidewalk lined with trees and grass, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

Illustrated data visualization showing the 42% carbon emissions decrease in Costa Rica’s building sector 2018-2050 and the $0.6 billion net loss that would occur over that same time period. The carbon emissions reduction is shown through the slope of a 3D cube filled with smoke and the budget by a light circle in a blue sky. At the top of the cube, the future of the country’s buildings is illustrated with a sustainable residential building covered with shrubs and greens, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

Illustrated data visualization showing how carbon emissions in Costa Rica’s electricity sector will stay neutral from 2018-2050 and the $0.7 billion net loss that would result. The budget is shown by a light circle in a blue sky. The future of the country’s electricity is illustrated with a dam creating hydroelectric power, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions (CO2 equivalent) from 2018 to 2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

Illustrated data visualization showing the 121% increase in net carbon sequestration in Costa Rica’s forestry sector from 2018-2050 and the $18.4 billion net benefit it would provide. The sequestration increase is shown through the slope of a 3D cube filled with a clean sky and the budget by a dark circle in a blue sky. At the top of the cube, the future of the country’s forestry is illustrated with a lush tropical forest and a waterfall, visualization by Gabrielle Mérite

*Estimated change in net carbon sequestration (CO2 equivalent) from 2018–2050 under Costa Rica’s National Decarbonization Plan

More Insights on Decarbonization in Costa Rica

RAND researchers analyzed more than 3,000 future scenarios to determine the likelihood that Costa Rica's National Decarbonization Plan would meet its goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. They found that Costa Rica would meet, or almost meet, this target in more than three-quarters of the futures that were modeled. The findings provide important lessons for other countries.

  • The hydroelectric dam Cachi in Ujarras de Cartago, 60 miles of San Jose, Costa Rica, May 25, 2007, photo by Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters

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About Gabrielle Mérite

Portrait of Information Designer Gabrielle Mérite

Gabrielle Mérite is an information designer specializing in empathetic data visualizations for truth-seeking, ethically driven organizations. Deeply passionate about social justice and humanity's responsibility for one another, her work breathes life into numbers so that people can truly feel their importance.

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