As the world waits to see how the United States and China respond to the prevailing environmental, social and economic crises, the small country of Costa Rica can offer some sizeable lessons.

Costa Rica has been pioneering a green economy for 15 years through its Payments for Environmental Services (PES) programme. Under this scheme, landowners who maintain environmental services are rewarded by the people who benefit from them. For example, payments are levied from water users to pay highland landowners who keep the water flowing downstream by planting and protecting forests.

The country's 1996 Forest Law strengthened regulations for existing forests, defined ecosystem services, clarified property rights to allow trading of environmental services, and created the National Forestry Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) to oversee PES payments. Funds are drawn from taxes on fossil fuels and on water.

Voluntary payments by individuals to a national bank offset vehicle emissions. People can also use a 'green' debit card that transfers 10% of the bank's commission to FONAFIFO.

Costa Rica's commitment to becoming carbon-neutral by 2021 is encouraging local voluntary agreements and parallel schemes such as PSA Solidario (, which rewards small-scale farmers who conserve forests but cannot access the national programme.