‘The goal is to be carbon neutral. We’d like to do it in the next 20 years.’
These were the words of the Environment Minister of Costa Rica Roberto Doblesin 2007. Costa Rica hit the news a couple of years ago when it was announced that the country had gone for days running purely on renewable energy. This announcement bolstered the developing country’s environmental reputation and put the developed world to shame, raising the question, ‘where should the burden of responsibility fall in terms of dealing with the environmental issues facing our planet?’ Costa Rica has bold plans for the future as well, with hopes that it will become the first carbon neutral country in the world. Costa Rica has long been understood as a model for the rest of the world to follow, but in reality, how feasible is this standing? Is the Costa Rican model replicable for either developing or developed countries?
The strong environmental reputation of Costa Rica is built on a variety of policies that other states should follow. The country relies extensively on hydropower though there has been investment in solar and geothermal energy to help reduce this dependency and to grow its renewable sector further. Also, in order to fight deforestation, in 1996 Costa Rica banned the destruction of certain forests. This has been extremely effective at providing a balance between agriculture and forest management. The government has also used a variety of tools from taxes and subsidies to promote clean energy and responsible behaviour from businesses and individuals alike, including penalties for businesses and homes that pollute waterways.
The overarching issue for environmental politics is the lack of follow-through. Environmental rhetoric can be found everywhere but a country that actually takes considerable steps towards a greener future such as Costa Rica is rare. The country has been credited for finding the balance between environmentally friendly policies while still growing its economy. It has exemplified the concept of sustainable development that attempts to marry the ideas of economic and social development with policies that protect the environment. However, there are those who question whether this is at all possible, and that one must give way to the other: the economy or the environment. The progress that Costa Rica has made both economically and environmentally as a developing country dismantles the notion that protecting the environment is sometimes impossible due to the economic cost. This is a lesson for all countries no matter the economic status and shows that the burden of responsibility should be shared amongst all countries. The example of Costa Rica shows that it is should not necessarily be about developing faster, but instead developing better.
Yet there are issues that are emerging from Costa Rica’s growing economy, particularly its growing demand for oil. As the country and its citizens become wealthier, car use is rising and therefore oil use as well. The country’s car usage is above the global average. Although, its renewable industry is booming in terms of electricity production, they actually only make up a quarter of the nation’s total energy use. The pressure now is to find ways to overcome this in terms of improvements to public transport and transitioning to electric vehicles. There are also concerns surrounding the country’s growing eco-tourism industry. Although this is a great way to provide the environment with a tangible value and make the most out of the beautiful landscapes that Costa Rica protects, encouraging air travel is an issue that some environmentalists take with this approach. This also raises questions concerning how to measure carbon emissions. Is Costa Rice responsible for the emissions of aircrafts travelling to the country?
These are challenges that are facing developed and developing countries alike. It would be foolish to suggest that Costa Rica is perfect in terms of its policies, environmental or otherwise. However, the country’s track record is laudable, especially when considering the apathy prevailing in the world. In terms of its replicability, it is worth noting that Costa Rica has numerous advantages that have allowed it to become one of the world leaders in environmental policies. It enjoys strong democratic governance, an educated workforce and is resource rich. This suggests that any country hoping to copy what Costa Rica has done and is attempting to do may struggle. However, what should be replicable is Costa Rica’s commitment to doing what it can for the environment. Every country, no matter its position in the world, can at least attempt to do more. The Costa Rican constitution was amended in 1994 to include the right of “every person…to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”. This is something every country should strive for.
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