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Sustainability in Costa Rica

Wed, Dec 9, 2009

Green Countries

Who would have thought that a member of the global south could also be one of the world’s greenest countries? Nestled between Panama, Nicaragua, and the beautiful blue ocean within Central America, Costa Rica is demonstrating that it has what it takes to support major sustainability initiatives. Some might find it surprising that Costa Rica is one of the greenest countries in the world, and more importantly, that environmental sustainability can also lead to greater economic growth.

Green Stats for Costa Rica

According to a Newsweek article entitled The World’s Greenest Countries, Yale University conducted a study in January 2008, ranking 149 countries according to an environmental performance index (EPI)–a weighting of carbon and sulfur emissions, water purity and conservation practices. Switzerland came in first place with a score of 95.5 and Costa Rica, surprisingly, came in 5th place just 5 points below that with a score of 90.5. According to the Newsweek piece, the EPI ranks countries on 21 elements of environmental sustainability covering natural resource endowments, past and present pollution levels, environmental management efforts, contributions to protection of the global commons, and a society’s capacity to improve its environmental performance over time.

These rankings might create a pressure for countries and policy makers specifically to do a better job with sustainability practices. Although Costa Rica has faced several challenges, especially in terms of income, the policy-makers have been able to make sound decisions that have helped the country stand out in the rankings.

Carbon Neutrality Goals

Costa Rica has lofty sustainability aspirations. It claims it wants to be the first developing country to become carbon neutral, that is to have zero output of carbon dioxide by 2021, according to an NPR post. Former President Dr. Espriella stated in a paper from the 2002 at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa that in Costa Rica 27% of the national territory are protected areas and a half of this percentage is under absolute protection. We produce more than 95% of our electric energy from renewable sources. This reflects our commitment with clean energy and we look forward to start an initiative towards the development of hydrogen based technologies.

2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development Former President Dr. Espriella proclaimed that Costa Rica was very committed to sustainability. He noted the importance going green when he stated, If we are to continue on the same path as we are, we will soon destroy the planet, but before that, we will destroy ourselves. He noted that the Costa Rican government has set policies that are up to par with transnational standards such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Rio Earth Summit of 1993.  Both gave recommendations for how to continue to advance with the movement towards greater sustainability.

Resources and Costa Rican Business

Costa Rica, as a nation, seems to be making huge strides for such a small country in terms of sustainable development, but what are several people doing to help?

One of the most important and effective efforts seems to be the budding eco-tourism industry within this Central-American country.  Eco-tourism, as The International Ecotourism Society defines it, is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

Not only does  eco-tourism help the locals make money, but it helps educate travelers on careful travel and preserving beautiful, lush parts of the country.  As the Rainforest Alliance states, “ecotourism to Costa Rica’s many protected natural areas is particularly significant, as it not only means millions of dollars that go toward park protection, but some 50,000 jobs.”

This small but inspiring country has shown us that not only can a small country from the global south go green, but it can also work towards greater economic stability.   A small country (much like a small business) can be a strong contender in the global marketplace.

By Fallon McCormick. Fallon can be reached atfmm245@nyu.edu.

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