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FEATURE STORY November 8, 2018

Championing Costa Rica’s Transition to Clean Transportation Systems


Officials from Latin America on a study tour in Spain to learn from Madrid’s experience of electrifying the transport sector.

Photo Credit: Spanish Fund for Latin America and the Caribbean


  • Costa Rica’s transition to clean transport systems is vital to meeting its climate goals and hinges on effective engagement of the public and private sectors
  • A World Bank-NDC Support Facility funded project is helping key decision makers strengthen their technical capabilities to launch an electric public transportation initiative for Costa Rica’s cities
  • The experience of Costa Rica, a member of the NDC Partnership, offers valuable takeaways for countries in the region where the demand for support for clean transport systems is growing

Lush forests, pristine beaches and mesmerizing volcanos may spring to mind when you think of Costa Rica. Behind-the-scenes, as well, a green engine is humming with promising signs of even greater ambition on climate. In 2017, the country of five million was powered entirely by renewable energy for 300 consecutive days. By 2030, Costa Rica hopes to make a complete switch to renewable energy. The country also recently passed a breakthrough law to promote electric vehicles through improved access to credit and economic incentives. The move has set the stage to decarbonize the transport sector which currently accounts for 60% of its greenhouse gas emissions.

The shift to electric mobility could hold the key to significant emissions reductions and a pledge to do so was accordingly made in the country’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) submitted in advance of the Paris Agreement. Additionally, a key aspect of the shift to electric mobility, namely, scaling up sustainable public transportation infrastructure, will not only deliver emissions reductions but also allow Costa Rica to more fully harness its abundant clean energy resources and lower its dependence on imported fossil fuels.

The “Electrification of the Public Transport System” project funded by the World Bank’s NDC Support Facility is contributing to an important national agenda on electrifying the transport sector headed by Costa Rica’s President and First Lady. The project is also aligned with a regional World Bank project, ‘Supporting a Sound Energy Transition for an Efficient Central America’, an extension of the ‘Central American Energy Assessment (6C)’ project focused on addressing market and policy barriers to support a smooth low-carbon economic transition in six countries in Central America.

The project brings together a range of stakeholders, helping establish a multi-sectoral steering committee including participants from the Ministries of Energy, Environment and Transport, as well as private bus and taxi operators, financial institutions and electric utilities to plan and implement the electric mobility initiative. The committee has been transformational in facilitating information exchange among diverse institutions and sectors. Its decision-making is guided by the project’s analyses of the cost structures of electric buses vis-a-vis conventional transport technologies.

This undertaking requires mobilizing capital and technical expertise from both the public and private sectors. Through high level workshops, trainings and discussion of international best practices, the project is building the capacity of the committee to plan investments, identify financing sources and develop a strategy to introduce affordable tariffs for electric buses.

Costa Rica is also currently drafting an NDC Investment Plan with support from the NDC Partnership, of which it is a member, and aligning its fiscal framework with this plan, proactively seeking support for implementing its NDC. Earlier this year, the World Bank, with NDC Support Facility support, co-organized a technical workshop on e-mobility in Brazil with the research organization, World Resources Institute (WRI), and the German Organization for Development Cooperation (GIZ) called “Green Your Bus”. At the workshop, which focused on Latin America’s sustainable transportation agenda, Costa Rica showcased its experience as a regional frontrunner, much to the inspiration of participants.


Next Steps

As the first Latin American country to assess the energy impacts of electrifying the transport sector, its approaches to assessing the costs of the transition and setting tariffs for electric buses, could be scaled up and replicated across Central America. The project’s support in terms of building government capacity to develop low-carbon policies and regulations could also be of vital relevance for the region. The “NDC Support Facility has demonstrated how to be a flexible and fast response instrument to support Costa Rica’s endeavor to fulfill its international climate commitments,” says Mariano González Serrano, the Project’s Team Leader.

And beyond Costa Rica, the NDC Support Facility aspires to be central to the World Bank Group’s efforts to showcase Costa Rica’s example to inspire similar endeavors in other countries.


The Project’s Team Leader, Mariano González, is a Senior Energy Specialist at the World Bank. He can be reached at .