The greenest and happiest country in the world.
Costa Rica is a small country, with an average income and a prosperous standard of living. He is known for the phrase “Pura vida”Which refers to the art of appreciating simplicity, happiness and optimism, and it seems to describe the social system based on peace and security that characterizes the country.
But the most representative element of Costa Rica is not based on its peaceful character (even if it is one of the few states in the world without an army), but on the fact that its flag has been greened. In recent years, Costa Rica has become a small ecological power in the region and has made its green condition a hallmark, promoting ecological industries and sustainable tourism.
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Green economy model
But according to Costa Rica, its green project does not have the sole objective of conserving its biodiversity and developing a differentiated country brand. With this project, Costa Rica seeks to pave the way for other nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect their natural spaces, thus avoiding climate change and its devastating consequences. But that brings us to the next question: is Costa Rica really a role model for the rest of the nations?
Costa Rica is known around the world for developing a green economy model which has successfully combined economic development, preservation of the biosphere and reduction of carbon emissions.
The country has an area 10 times smaller than that of Spain, while it is home to 5% of all the world’s biodiversity. In addition, 25% of its territory is protected and 50% of it is occupied by forests.
In addition, it is one of the few countries to have succeeded in stopping deforestation. While this has only increased in regions like Brazil or Bolivia, Costa Rica has grown from 21% of the land covered by forests in 1987 to current levels of 50%. This was largely the result of a system of environmental protection and payments for environmental services.
Payments for environmental services
Its system of payments for environmental services consists of a model of fuel taxes which are earmarked for a special fund for nature conservation. This fund is known as the Costa Rica Forest Finance Fund, which rewards farm owners who decide to conserve natural spaces or implement programs to help strengthen them. In addition, companies wishing to compensate for the negative externalities of their economic activities on the environment also participate voluntarily in this fund.
But that’s not all, in 2015 99% of Costa Rican energy was already from renewable sources, up to 80% from hydropower, and by 2050 they hope to be a completely carbon-free country, in accordance with the Paris Agreement. and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
And that’s only a small part of all the projects that seek to make Costa Rica a sustainable country. The government recently approved a geothermal power plant plan to promote volcanic geothermal energy and a hydropower plant called Reventazon, which aims to provide electricity to more than half a million homes and provide electricity to more than half a million homes. electricity to about a quarter of the country’s inhabitants.
Champions of the Earth Award
As a result of these efforts, Costa Rica received the highest environmental award from the United Nations in 2019, the Champions of the Earth award. The United Nations Environment Program has awarded him recognition in the Political Leadership category for his work in the protection of nature and his commitment to climate change policies.
According to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program: “Costa Rica has been a pioneer in the protection of peace and nature, and is an example for the region and for the world. Climate change requires urgent and transformative action on the part of all of us and, with its ambitious plans to decarbonize the economy, Costa Rica is up to this challenge ”.
Costa Rica has not only stood out for its environmental policies, but for its combination of these with economic policies, and although sustainability is commonly associated with decline in development, there is nothing further of the Costa Rican reality. Its projects for a sustainable economic and social model have not been in contradiction with economic development.
Since 2000, the economy has grown by 4% annually, much faster than most Latin American countries or those belonging to the OECD. And if we take measures of well-being other than GDP, the results are even better. While Costa Rica sits 76th in the world GDP ranking, in terms of prosperity, it occupies 29th place in the ranking, being the second most prosperous country in all of South America, only surpassed by the Uruguay and being very close.
In addition, it has the third highest life expectancy on the Latin American continent, even above the United States. And if instead of taking data on well-being or economic prosperity, we take into account the well-being of the population, Costa Rica recently reached the first place of the Happy Planet Index for the third time in a row, this which makes it the country with the happiest inhabitants on earth.
Some stability issues
So far, the country’s situation looks rosy, and although Costa Rica has been recognized as one of the leading countries in the combination of economic growth and sustainability, it still presents issues that threaten its stability. Three main issues threaten Costa Rica’s well-being, many of which are common to other parts of the world: debt, violence and populism.
Over the past 10 years, Costa Rica’s public debt in terms of GDP has doubled and the country closed 2019 with a budget deficit of almost 7%. And while $ 1 in $ 3 of government spending is already being used to pay off debt, there isn’t much room to raise taxes. These, including taxes on electricity and fuels or on corporate profits, are already among the highest in the world.
And all of this is combined with already high unemployment rates, which are reaching the maximum as a result of the pandemic, which has only exacerbated the problem. As much of the economy relied on sustainable tourism, unemployment has dropped from 12% to 24% and the situation is increasingly volatile.
In order to finance the crisis, President Carlos Alvarado called for a tax hike that would allow him to negotiate a loan with the IMF, a proposal that led to the most massive wave of social mobilizations in decades. Since September 30, mobilisations have raged across the country and although Alvarado announced on October 4 that he would not follow up on the IMF’s initial proposal, the protests have not stopped.
In addition, Costa Rica is suffering an unprecedented wave of violence. Being a historically peaceful country and without even having military structures, it has not been able to contain the Central American violence. The country is in one of the most violent regions in the world, ravaged by drug trafficking. And although the situation is not close to that of some neighboring countries like Nicaragua, Costa Rica continues to be at the center of one of the main drug routes in the world.
The third problem is a wave that is already hitting the world: populism. The first round of the last election was not won by current President Carlos Alvarado, but by Fabricio Alvarado, a well-known evangelical pastor with a populist discourse and a stance radically against many individual freedoms, such as equal marriage. In the second round, his percentage of the vote reached 30%, and while that was not enough to win the election, it serves as a warning about what could happen at the political level in the years to come.
Many challenges to overcome
In conclusion, it is undeniable that Costa Rica still has many challenges to overcome, but these, like economic development, do not appear to be directly linked to its strength as a sustainable country. Even with debt problems and being in one of the most conflicting regions on the planet, Costa Rica has managed to carve out a place for itself alongside the nations most advanced in environmental leadership to achieve clean nations. and respectful of the environment.
Now we can only see if measures against the consequences of the pandemic follow the green line of Costa Rica’s previous political plans. And with that, I leave it to you to decide if Costa Rica is an example of sustainable development and a model of the future for the rest of the nations or, on the contrary, if we must continue to seek a new path towards a more world. green and healthier.