SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (Reuters) – Costa Rica, a leader in eco-tourism and home to some of the world’s rarest species, planted its 5 millionth tree of 2007 on Wednesday, December 19 as it tries to put a brake on global warming.
President Oscar Arias shoveled dirt onto the roots of an oak tree planted in the grounds of his offices, reaching the milestone in the Central American nation’s efforts to ward off what some experts say are the first signs of climate change.
By the end of the year, Costa Rica will have planted nearly 6.5 million trees, which should absorb 111,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, Environment Minister Roberto Dobles said.
The country aims to plant 7 million trees in 2008 as part of the newly launched program.
Along with other green-minded nations like Norway and New Zealand, Costa Rica is aiming to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero, and has set a target date of 2021.
“I don’t know if we will end up being carbon neutral in 2021 as we have proposed, but the important thing is the audacity of the goal and the work we have to do,” Arias said.
Costa Rica is a magnet for ecology-minded tourists who come to visit the lush and reserves that cover more than a quarter of the country and are home to almost 5 percent of the world’s plant and animal species including exotic birds and frogs.
Over the last 20 years forest cover in Costa Rica has grown from 26 percent of the national territory to 51 percent, though environmentalists complain that loggers continue to cut down old trees and that the national park system is under funded.
Costa Rican authorities have blamed the loss of more than a dozen amphibian species, including the shiny yellow “golden toad,” on higher temperatures caused by global warming.
Experts also say climate change is behind a spike in mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever at high elevations where they were once rare.
The number of dengue fever cases so far this year in Costa Rica’s high-altitude central valley stands at 3,487 — 86 percent higher than in the whole of 2006.
(Reporting by John McPhaul, editing by Eric Walsh)