Costa Rica – the green diamond

Mr Hakim Fekih, journalist, Master’s student at ESSEC Business School and member of the student association NOISE, contends that Costa Rica can show the world the way in responsible energy policy.

CO2 emissions, natural catastrophes, the exhausting of resources, river and sea pollution, the melting ice cap, Donald Trump… For some years now, we’ve heard only of the problems linked to environmental stakes. And for just reason: global warming has indeed begun, whether the conspiracy theorists like it or not. Confronted with this challenge to civilisation, several NGOs have for years sounded the alarm: if we do not act, we risk the worst. Politicians – that is, the majority of them – seem to have become aware of the gravity of the situation. Several initiatives and policies in favour of the climate have been launched such as, among others, the historical agreement of the COP21. Despite this, we may be right to doubt the effectiveness of the political debate. The situation is serious and we get the impression that the answers provided are much too meek. However, there are countries which have decided to seriously take action. This article proposes the discovery of one of them in particular – Costa Rica.

Small country, great nation

Literally, Costa Rica means ‘Rich Coast’ – and we can say that it bears its name well. This small country in Central America has historically shown its penchant for avant-gardism. In 1948, it became the first country in the world to constitutionally do away with its army, wanting to play the role of ‘neutral country’ campaigning for peace.  The government decided to concentrate the major part of national expenditure in the sectors of health and education – something that enabled the country to obtain the 7th best Human Development Index (HDI) score in Latin America. Better still, in 2009 it rose to first place in world rankings in happiness (the Happy Planet Index) and fifth place in the environmental development index. This tiny country inhabited by five million people can also boast of being one of the most egalitarian countries in Latin America and, what’s more, one of the nicest places in which to live. But all these figures are only a simple illustration of the results of the audacious and visionary policies undertaken by successive governments – as its energy policy has long-since demonstrated.

A revolutionary energy policy

In November 2017, the Costa Rican government announced that it had beaten its record of the previous year: for three hundred days, the electricity produced in the country had been generated by renewable energies: hydroelectric (78.26%), wind (10.29%), geothermal (10.23%) with a few other meagre joules attributed to biomass, solar energy and fossil fuels. The country, living essentially off tourism and agriculture, is fast-becoming a reference in terms of ecology and for good reason: it choses long-term policies rather than opting for easy and polluting solutions. In 1949, José Figueres Ferrer, then President of Costa Rica, decided to nationalise the entire electricity sector including production and distribution. During the 1990s, the government opened up the sector to private investors, but only to a ceiling of 30%, thereby keeping a near-total state monopoly over this strategic sector. The result: almost all the population has access to electricity.

It is true that the geographical conditions of the country encourage such results. Nevertheless, limiting the causes of this feat to a simple hazard of nature would be unjust towards the voluntarist policies carried out by the state. Several investments have been made in order to build wind farms, geothermal electric factories and, recently, in 2016, the largest hydro-electric factory in Latin America. Another example illustrating this voluntarism: in 2011, the government decreed a three-year moratorium on the exploration of oil reserves despite the fact that Latin America is a region overflowing with such resources.

A model to follow

For all those defending the environment, Costa Rica is a model to follow. Admittedly, these achievements in energy only concern electricity, and the country is still largely dependent on hydrocarbons for transport and industry which currently represent the biggest energy eaters. Nevertheless, Costa Rica has the merit of giving it a go. It has a vision set towards the long term and clear objectives. Moreover, the country’s President announced at the COP21 that Costa Rica aimed to become the world’s leading carbon-neutral country by 2021. The environment has for decades been integrated in the government’s priorities – for example, after having lost 50% of its forest cover between 1950 and 1980, the government launched a programme for the reforestation and protection of its natural heritage. It is a country that has understood the stakes of the 21st century and which has begun to show the path to follow.

In an era where the main preoccupation of the great powers concerning the melting ice cap is to know who the petrol beneath it belongs to, Costa Rica, this small country on the path to development, has a lot to teach the world’s ‘developed countries’.

Useful links:

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