Costa Rica has pledged to become the first nation to become carbon neutral. This event raises the important question of how to understand this contemporary form of climate politics, given that Costa Rica has made an almost negligible contribution to the problem of global climate change. To understand this pledge, a case study spanning about 200 years situates the pledge within the country’s unique historical profile. An analysis of interview data, archival research, and secondary data reveals that the pledge is the latest instance in Costa Rica’s unusual political tradition. This political tradition dates back to the area’s experience as a Spanish colony and as a newly independent nation. Several events, including the abolition of the army, the work on green development, and being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize were all foundational in forming Costa Rica’s tradition as a place that leads by example and stands for peace and protection of nature. The carbon neutral pledge extends the political tradition that has been established through these earlier events. This case highlights the importance of understanding contemporary environmental politics through an analysis of long-term, historical data.
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