Costa Rica sustainability from the beginning

In this Green Business Bureau article, we present a case study to showcase Costa Rica sustainability. Our aim is to highlight what’s possible from adopting a forward-thinking, positive mindset and an innovative approach to drive a green transition on a country-wide scale.

Costa Rica is located in Central America, is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and limited to the southeast by the Republic of Panama, and the north by the Republic of Nicaragua.

About 50 years ago, Costa Rica began to promote a series of novel environmental policies. This kick-started a green transition, which was ultimately driven by the country’s citizens; that is, sustainability and sustainable development are rooted in the country’s DNA. Today, Costa Rica stands as a sustainability pioneer, sitting among the top-spot for the most sustainable countries in the world.

Yet, Costa Rica hasn’t always been an environmental steward. For instance, in the 1940s, 75% of land was covered by forests. Towards the end of the eighties, (1987), this coverage declined by approximately one-half. This rapid deforestation was the result of an economic system that valued changing “unproductive land” (forests) to “productive land” (agricultural land). And it was the expansion of these barren agricultural fields at the expense of Costa Rica’s rich and wonderful diversity that sparked the country’s green transition.

Sustainability policies established

It was not until the early 1990s that political leaders realized the need for change, to significantly improve the environmental and social systems that the country’s economy relied on. Investment policies were introduced to reverse the current unmaintainable situation. After an in-depth analysis covering the economic benefits of conserving healthy ecosystems, the Costa Rican government began implementing conservation policies. Government policies were framed under the following axes:

  1. Establish national parks.
  2. Promote ecotourism.
  3. Foster organic farming.
  4. Preserve the natural environment.
  5. Improve societal well-being, health, educational access and support a green culture.
  6. Design a plan to implement a green economy.

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Costa Rica sustainability today

Costa Rica received the 2019 Champions of the Earth award, which is the highest environmental honor of the United Nations. The UN recognized the country’s role in protecting nature and commitment to ambitious policies to combat climate change.

The policies are based on a detailed plan to decarbonize the country’s economy by 2050, which is aligned with the commitments of The Paris Climate Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS COSTA RICA 2020 lays out the country’s 2030 Agenda, which provides a model for nations worldwide. The 2030 Agenda is perceived as a tool that guarantees human rights for all, and is a pledge that involes and counts on members of society for its success. Moreover, the Agenda 2030 comes as an opportune moment to outline actions and find solutions in line with sustainable development. Costa Rica’s sustainable development plans rely on a multistakeholder approach, involving all members of society. One key goal is for Costa Rica to be recognised as a leader in establishing a carbon-neutral future.

On this note, the National Strategic Plan 2020-2050 (NEP) establishes Costa Rica’s long-term sustainable development strategy based on:

  • The decarbonization of the economy.
  • Building resiliency.
  • Investing in sustainability-related research and development.
  • Building an inclusive, modern, green, and emission-free economy.

The Costa Rican government launched its first National Adaptation Plan (NAP) in 2022. The NAP outlines a roadmap to strengthen the country’s resilience to climate change over the next five years. The NAP has six central axes to achieve the commitments and define specific actions.

  • Understand climate change management, climate services, and local and institutional capacities for development.
  • Strengthen the resilience of human and natural systems through adequate land and marine planning.
  • Deliver appropriate biodiversity, ecosystems, basin, and marine-coastal management to favor local communities.
  • Institute climate-resilient public services and infrastructure.
  • Design eco-competitive production systems.
  • Establish climate action investments and financial security.

The environmental credentials of Costa Rica

In the below video, hosted by the World Economic Forum, Costa Rica’s aims to establish a carbon-neutral future – plus more of their overarching green goals and achievements are described.

Where’s Costa Rica now regarding they’re performance on a sustainability front?

For one, Costa Rica has established an extensive and successful reforestation scheme, meaning over half of the country is sheltered under a canopy of trees. The re-establishment of these forest ecosystems provides shelter, food and space for life to flourish, meaning Costa Rica flaunts incredible biodiversity.

Costa Rica has set aside 28 national parks, supplemented by protected areas that cover a quarter of the country’s land surface (25-28% coverage).

Due to the achievements and recognitions obtained, Costa Rica’s environmental credentials are known to be one of the best in the world, and the country is often described as a living Eden.

Yet, the preceding text does not imply that the decarbonization of economic and productive activities, while also re-establishing and conserving biodiveristy is an easy task to achieve. However, it’s essential to point out that several Costa Rican presidents have been applying and maintaining state policies for sustainability, setting goals to go further than other countries have yet to dare.

Costa Rica’s sustainability practices

Costa Rica has several impressive sustainability practices that have earned it’s high ranking on the Sustainable Development Goals Index. Some of these practices include:

  • Costa Rica is 98% free of deforestation. Reducing deforestation also serves to lower the country’s carbon footprint, mitigating climate change.
  • The central axis of Costa Rica’s decarbonization plan is to maintain an upward curve of economic growth and, at the same time, generate a slowdown in the use of polluting fossil fuels. Strategies deployed by Costa Rica to achieve this objective include instituting clean public transport services; building smart and resilient cities; deploying a rational waste management system; promoting and supporting sustainable agriculture, and improving country-wide logistic systems.
  • According to the Ministry of Health, Costa Rica’s recycling rate has increased by 469% between 2015 to 2017. The country’s “pay to throw” program – which charges residents as per the garbage weight they generate – is the main driving force behind this achievement. Although the country still has some waste challenges to address, these figures show the country is heading in the right direction.
  • Cost Rica prioritizes and invests heavily in education at all educational levels.
  • Costa Rica has one of the world’s most diverse and protected ecosystems. Costa Rican citizens and tourists can enjoy the beauty of their natural environment, stimulating the intrinsic motivation of society to work to preserve it for the benefit of future generations.
  • Costa Rica reinforces and practices the mainstreaming of human rights and gender equality in all initiatives, projects, programs, and public policies.
  • The Costa Rican economy has transformed to a green economy that drives tourism, promoting sustainability initiatives across the country.
  • The Costa Rican government has prioritized sustainability through the enactment of green policies and laws. For instance, since 1997 Costa Rica has collected 3.5% tax on fossil fuels, generating $26.4 million per year.
  • The country has developed multiuse public and private buildings under high-efficiency standards and low-emission processes.
  • The country supports the switch of light-duty petroleum vehicles to zero-emission vehicles such as those that run on electricity.
  • Costa Rica has transformed their public transport system to an eco-friendly system.
  • Costa Rica generates ~99% of its electricity from renewable sources, this includes hydro, geothermal, wind, and solar power. Due to the significant investments made in recent years, the majority (67.5%) of Costa Rica’s energy is hydroelectric.

Costa Rica is operating as a progressive leader to build a sustainable future

Costa Rica’s sustainability initiatives have paid off both environmentally and economically. The Central American country has maintained a high level of biodiversity while its economy has seen steady economic growth over the past 25 years. As a result, Costa Ricans enjoy one of the highest living standards in Latin America.

Costa Rica’s plan considers sustainability larger than a single country or a specific action. The Central American government is actively committed to ecological practices and promoting the well-being of its residents. Costa Rica’s sustainability plan combines the practices of local and global economies, human rights, and the conservation of cultural heritage.

Costa Rica is on the right path to finding a reliable balance between a healthy environment, a strong economy, and a dynamic and fair society. Costa Rican people understand that it’s possible to satisfy current economic needs without compromising the viability of the next generations.

The Costa Rican experience exemplifies how our world can be intertwined with the needs of nature, giving lasting benefits to human society and our economy. This is a country that’s operating as a progressive leader, transitioning forward to create the future we want for our children. We at Green Business Bureau look forward to working with Costa Rica to help all their small businesses and companies become more sustainable using our Green Business Certification program.

Author: Rafael Felix Ibarcena, Green Business Bureau

Rafael has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Lima. Rafael is pursuing a Concurrent Master of Science degree in Entrepreneurship in Applied Technologies and Global Sustainability, with an Energy concentration, at the University of South Florida. Rafael has more than twenty-five years of working experience as an Executive and Business and Finance Consultant. He is passionate about applying his academic and working experience to helping people and organizations understand the importance of protecting the environment and communities. He loves to spend time with his family and attend sports and music venues.”

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