Sustainable urban transport: Avoid-shift-improve

Project description

Title: Climate change mitigation in Costa Rica’s transport sector
Commissioned by: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) in the framework of the International Climate Initiative (IKI)
Country: Costa Rica
Lead executing agency: Dirección de Cambio Climático del Ministerio de Ambiente y Energía
Overall term: 2017 to 2021



Costa Rica's traffic is the biggest obstacle to the country reaching its goal of complete independence from fossil fuels by 2050: the transport sector is currently responsible for 54 per cent of the country's CO2 emissions. The rapid growth of the country’s vehicle fleet by five per cent per year is one of the main problems, compounded by the long vehicle life cycles. In urban areas such as the capital San José in particular, where nearly half of Costa Rica's residents live, partly unstructured urban sprawl has led to a dramatic increase in private and freight transport on the road. 

Fundamental aspects of sustainable transport, such as the existence of an integrated public transport system or a fast commuter train, are completely outdated. This leads to growing inconvenience for residents due to congestion, noise and fume pollution. The country lacks the political strategies, legal framework and targeted investments it needs to develop a climate-friendly transport system and to promote modern technologies. Conflicts between different stakeholders with special interests hamper sustainable transport planning.

99 per cent of the country's energy is already being generated from renewable sources. So far, however, only a few steps have been taken to link transport to the clean energy matrix.


The Costa Rican Government implements more emission-reduction measures in the transport sector.



On behalf of the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) and within its International Climate Initiative, the project advises:

  • the Costa Rican Government on developing the necessary policies and regulations to improve public and private transport and freight transport services; 
  • the municipalities and local authorities on taking measures for improving public transport in the San José metropolitan area; 
  • on the electrification of local public transport; and 
  • on actively involving the public in the transition process and communicating Costa Rica’s experiences at national, regional and international levels. 

The project is closely aligned with the national climate strategy, the decarbonisation plan and relevant national action plans such as the energy and transport plans. In terms of content, it follows the ‘avoid-shift-improve’ approach co-developed by the Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH. 



  • The project has helped to formulate a law aimed at promoting electromobility. The project also assisted the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Environment reach an agreement on reducing CO2 in the transport sector by 4.01 mega tonnes by 2050. The project also helped to develop the ‘National Electromobility Plan by 2030’ and to formulate regulations on modifying the infrastructure for electric vehicles.
  • In order to promote alternative means of transport and reduce the use of fossil fuels, the project supported the development of a law that defines rights and regulations for cyclists and introduces guidelines for municipalities and companies. Another draft law promotes the pedestrian-friendly design of public spaces.
  • At the end of 2019, three municipalities carried out interventions in tactical urbanism to identify integrative transport solutions. The interventions involve temporarily changing streets or public spaces, for example by using coloured markings to designate safety zones for cyclists and pedestrians. The objective is to demonstrate the added value of attractive public spaces. 
  • The project identified the most important areas of work in freight transport and implements measures to promote environmentally-friendly driving, improved technical vehicle inspection by the national inspection authority and the renewal of the vehicle fleet.
  • A triangular cooperation financed by BMZ aims to facilitate knowledge transfers and exchanges of experience on electromobility from Costa Rica to Honduras.
  • The project is working on introducing three electric buses donated by BMU into the San José metropolitan area. The aim is to motivate bus companies to electrify their fleets. So far, three bus routes have been selected and the technical features of the buses identified. 
  • The project examined how local public transport (ÖPNV) is perceived by the population, especially by women. The following measures were derived from the results: designing safe stops; training bus drivers and police on de-escalating cases of aggression/harassment on public transport; and developing digital solutions for preventing and reporting harassment on public transport.
  • Communication campaigns were carried out, including ‘BICIonarios’, which focuses on promoting cycling, and ‘Descarbonicemos el transporte!’, which addresses current efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector.