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Afforestation and reforestation

Costa Rica has been able to grow its forested area by two and a half times using ecosystem service payments. Scaling up the solution could reduce emissions by nearly as much as Canada produces every year while preserving biodiversity and improving rural incomes. 


Climate impact

The forest cover in Costa Rica has returned to over a half of the country’s land area from just a fifth in the 1980s. As a result, the country’s land use sector has moved from emitting 2.4 Mt emissions annually in 1990 to removing 3.5 Mt in 2005.

The Costa Rican programme can be scaled up to all countries with afforestation potential. This could result in annual emission reductions of 294 to 882 Mt in 2025 and 441 to 1,323 Mt in 2030 globally.

Success factors

Costa Rica has adopted a mix of economic and regulatory policies to protect and expand its forests. The Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) programme was enacted in 1996. It has twin objectives: to increase the provision of ecosystem services and to reduce poverty.

To this end, PES gives payments to landowners who provide environmental services. The PES programme has five categories: 1) forest protection; 2) commercial reforestation; 3) agroforestry; 4) sustainable forest management; and 5) regeneration of degraded areas.

The programme to date covers nearly one million hectares of forest. Farmers get annual payments for protection ($64-80 per hectare), reforestation ($980-1,410 per hectare) and agroforestry ($1.3-1.9 per tree). Differentiated payments take into account the environmental importance of the area and use of native species.


Afforestation has an estimated abatement cost of 13.5 $/tCO2e. Scaling up the solution would therefore cost $4 to $12 billion in 2025 and $6 to $18 billion in 2030 per year.


The PES programme protects and promotes biodiversity and ecosystem services. By conserving and expanding forests the programme prevents land degradation, landslides and soil erosion. Forests also help in preserving water resources and protecting against floods and drought.

The programme provides support to landowners especially in vulnerable rural areas. Local people benefit by earning money in timber production or tourism. In Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, half of the environmental-service sellers were found to have moved above the poverty line. For them, PES represented on average 16% of annual household income.

Barriers and drivers

  • Major difficulties include assigning tenure rights and overcoming high administrative costs. The key to success in Costa Rica was clear governance. Farmers must have a technical management plan approved by the authorities.
  • Landowners need to be convinced that they get economic benefits and that the programme does not mean taking away their land rights. This requires information, transparency and training.
  • Paying for ecosystem services on a continuous basis also requires significant funding. Creating markets for ecosystem services and channeling international funding can help in particular poorer countries in implementation.

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