IT WAS during the General Assembly of the Environmental Practitioners' Association (EPA) in August 2016 when I first learned how environment-friendly Costa Rica is. Recently, this small country in Central America received a 2019 Champions of the Earth award for its role in the protection of nature and its commitment to ambitious policies to combat climate change.

"Champions of the Earth" is the UN's flagship global environmental award. It was established by UNEP in 2005 to celebrate outstanding figures whose actions have had a transformative positive impact on the environment.

From world leaders to environmental defenders and technology inventors, the awards recognize trailblazers who are working to protect our planet for the next generation.

Costa Rica is a world leader in sustainability. It wants to "decarbonize" its economy by 2050, meaning the country will produce no more emissions than it can offset through actions. This is in spite of the fact that its 5 million people produce only 0.4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

To achieve their plan, Costa Rica set up long term targets to reform their transport, energy, waste and land use to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. One of these is maintaining and expanding its forests. Forest cover stands at more than 53 per cent after painstaking work to reverse decades of deforestation.

According to the United Nations University, over 75 percent of the country was covered in indigenous woodland, mostly tropical rainforest in the 1940s. In the subsequent decades, rampant and unchecked logging ensued so that by 1983 only 26 percent of the country's forest was left and the deforestation rate had risen to 50,000 hectares per year. By 1989 however, the annual deforestation rate had dropped to 22,000 hectares per year. The figure dropped even lower to 4,000 hectares per year by 1994 and in 1998 the deforestation rate had dropped to zero.

Another area the country is working on is the use of renewable energy. Already, more than 98 per cent of Costa Rica's energy is renewable. In 2017, the country ran for a record 300 days solely on renewable power.

The aim is to achieve 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2030. Seventy per cent of all buses and taxis are expected to be electric by 2030, with full electrification projected for 2050.

Believe it or not, Costa Rica has no army, navy or air force. They only have local police forces. Their military budget was redirected toward healthcare, education and environmental protection. Their achievement proved that sustainability is both achievable and economically viable.

If we are to reverse the current Global Warming trend, we need to do drastic actions like what Costa Rica did. Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require unprecedented changes to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero around 2050.