Costa Rica: a sharper shade of green

There's money in them there forests...

Between 1997 and 2010 Costa Rica made payments of US$45-163 per hectare to encourage forest conservation and new planting. Funding came from a hydroelectric power company keen to protect its watershed, the World Bank intent on promoting forest biodiversity, and a hike of 15% on the price of petrol, reported The Economist last year.

Costa Rica is a green trailblazer. Its rate of deforestation is now negligible. This is great news as forests produce water, consume carbon, and accommodate a vast array of plant, insect and animal species. In recognition of this the United Nations is promoting The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) to reduce costs of US$2-4.5trn every year from forest loss and degradation. To tackle both PES has been devised, the Payment for Ecosystem Services, which is anticipated to open up new markets.

Costa Rica encompasses a mere 0.03% of the earth's surface, yet is in the top twenty richest countries in biodiversity in terms of species density, says, an official site. Costa Ricans calculate that there are more species in 1,000 sq km of Costa Rica than in an equivalent area of Brazil.

As a world leader in the biodiversity arena, Costa Rica will likely be aware of Annup Shah's assertions in Global Issues that biodiversity boosts ecosystem productivity.  Each species has a key role, he says, with the effect that:
  • a larger number of plant species means a greater variety of crops
  • species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms
  • healthy ecosystems can better withstand and recover from various disasters.

The 'Switzerland of the Americas' is no stranger to success as a pioneer of social innovation, political advance and economic reform. Eco-tourism receipts are consistently rising due to its super-green reputation.  Its tourism industry is just shy of being a US$2bn a year business, eco-tourism accounting for a sizeable measure of that total.  Past criticism of 'greenwashing' has been levelled at the country.  GreenTraveller, OrganicConsumers and others have reported concern about the 'greening' of luxury hotels and other ploys merely to attract wealthy North Americans eager to participate in eco-friendly activities or experience the wonders of environmentally sound habitats.  Costa Rica responded by issuing resorts with eco-certificates, so recent travel-journalists reports are more generous.  Safety and transport infrastucture concerns persist, however.

Yet its success as an eco-friendly destination comes on the back of other distinctions.  It has the highest GDP per head in Central America, at around US$11,000 per capita.  Numerous regional headquarters of multi-national corporations are based there. To boost economic activity it has signed a Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with:

  • Canada
  • Caribbean Community (CARICOM)
  • Chile
  • China
  • Dominican Republic
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Singapore
  • United States

And there are more to come, as negotiations are concluding with the European Union, for example.

This was one of the first countries to abolish its army, preferring instead to spend revenues on education, economic growth and social advances.  It aims, too, to the the first carbon-neutral nation by 2021.  New Economics Foundation runs a Happy Planet Index, calculating human and environmental impact and rates Costa Rica first in the world on that basis. It's the greenest country, according to a 2008 measure in The Guardian. No surprise really.  

With both Caribbean and Pacific seaboards, this little country straddles the Central American ithsmus. It's only 51,100 sq km in size making it about the same size as Bosnia, Slovakia or a touch smaller than West Virginia. And it sports a population of around 4.5m, roughly that of Ireland. Costa Rica's economy continues to grow, now at a projected 4.5%.

Undoubtedly, certain other countries will attempt to emulate its achievements, particularly as carbon trading schemes and emissions controls become political norm rather than exception.  If money can be generated from UN-inspired proposals and eco-tourist dollars, then it's probable others will aspire to a brighter, greener future too.

Check out all commentaries here.  

No comments:

Post a Comment