Por Arthur Howard Nelson
Pasante de FUNPADEM
A little over a week ago media outlets around the world reported that Costa Rica, a nation known for its lush and vast biodiversity, has not used fossil fuels for power since the first of June this year. According to analyses from the various sources which reported the achievement, Costa Rica accomplished this feat mostly because of its utilization of hydropower, an industry bolstered by high levels of rainfall. The development and use of sustainable energy is part of the country’s efforts to protect its natural wealth and become carbon- neutral by the year 2021.
Because of its preservationist policies, Costa Rica is considered by many world observers to be one of the greenest countries on the planet. And, as the effects of global climate change worsen, many global leaders, citizens and media have emphasized the dire importance of protecting the earth’s natural resources.
However, Costa Rica achieving over 150 days of independence from fossil fuels received an incredibly light amount of international recognition. Websites and a few online magazines wrote pieces about the achievement, but major international publications such as the New York Times, BBC and the Washington Post failed to even acknowledge what Costa Rica had done. The publications that did discuss it only briefly mentioned it, without going into much depth as to the particulars of the energy usage. Furthermore, world leaders and international organizations stayed mum.
This is peculiar, not only because the consensus of the global community has consistently understood the grave nature of the environmental crisis, but also because the story of Costa Rican use of sustainable energy is without doubt one of the most important occurrences of the year, if not the past decade. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations and a multitude of think tanks and NGOs, the earth will not be able to sustain current rates of global fossil fuel usage. In fact, an analysis of climate change by the former organization found that if current usage continues, the world and its natural riches will reach a point of irreversible destruction by the year 2100, a time in which in effects will be on a “regional scale.”
Global climate change is thus the single greatest issue of our generation. It spans borders and politics, conflict and collaboration. Every country in the world will be incredibly adversely affected by the degradation of the earth’s natural environment in almost all aspects of life. It is for this reason that Costa Rica deserves much more praise and scrutiny from the international community for exclusively using sustainable resources.
The praise is for obvious reasons. Foremost, Costa Rica proved that attaining sustainability on a national scale is possible. As reflected in a piece written by Robert Bryce of Forbes, various political opinions and groups in every country have argued that transitioning from dependency on fossil fuels to the utilization of sustainable energy would be disastrous economically because of job loss, damages to metrics like GDP, and issues with distribution.
However, Costa Rica has experienced great financial success from investments in green technology. Because of federal incentives and an eager market, GDP per capita in Costa Rica has increased by 4.5% for the past 13 years. And, only 1.4% of Costa Rica’s population lives below the global poverty line. Costa Rica has undoubtedly been considered an economic success during its attempts at energy sustainability, demonstrating that green energy does not inherently affect a country’s economy in negative ways. Furthermore, 99.5% of Costa Rica’s population has access to electricity, clearly displaying the ridiculous nature of the assertion that running a country on sustainable energy would leave its population in the dark.
Costa Rica is clearly a model of economic and environmental success for the rest of the world. But while it is important to praise the achievements of the nation, it is just as vital to scrutinize them. For, meaningful progress and improvements are only made through the intense analysis of policies and their effects. While Costa Rica has enjoyed a level of great success, the country still has an incredible amount of work to accomplish. And, other countries of the world must have a deep knowledge of the environmental and economic conditions in Costa Rica to apply its achievements to their respective models.
Foremost, as Lindsay Fendt of The Guardian notes, Costa Rica’s ability to run on 90% hydropower is due to the consistent rainfall in the country. As Fendt discusses, this means that Costa Rica would not be having such success if it were in a time of drought as it was just months ago, and further that other countries with less rainfall would have difficulties replicating such a model. Costa Rica also only hosts approximately 200 clean energy vehicles, meaning that the country is still producing immense greenhouse gas pollution through residents’ use of cars, buses, motorcycles and other methods of transportation. Fendt also points out that Costa Rica is a relatively small nation, and a country with a larger area or population could find the transition to clean energy unattainable.
While the debate between the feasibility of certain types of clean energy in a country is completely merited, inaction and nonchalance surrounding global climate change is not. As a species, we must do what it takes to assure that our way of life does not destroy our communal home. The complete degradation of the earth’s natural environment, which as research suggests is inevitable with current fossil fuel usage rates, is morally repulsive and gravely damning.
So, no matter what specific methods or policies a country feels it can take to prevent such catastrophe, they must be heavily invested in the analysis of the problem and potential solutions. While many countries and populations have dedicated money to such causes, very few seem to have the passion required to make significant change. Costa Rica achieved more than 150 days of sustainable energy last week, but the international reaction to this beam of hope in a polluted world was disappointing. Media outlets failed to report it as anything more than a minor achievement or an interesting fact, and global leaders seem just as uninterested.
Costa Rica may be very different from every one of the world’s nations, but it undoubtedly proved that utilizing sustainable energy on a national scale is possible. Each country has different natural riches, but each has them nonetheless. Costa Rica’s monumental feat should inspire deep inquiry from each of the world’s populations to understand both the incredible achievement and ways in which they can apply Costa Rica’s policies to their own nations, towns and homes. If Costa Rican energy policies are not given such attention, the countries of the world will prove that they are not completely invested in halting mankind’s damage to the planet. This would be the gravest error ever experienced in the history of our species.
Bryce, R. (2010, May 11). The Real Problem with Renewables. Forbes.
Climate Change Synthesis Report. (2014). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Costa Rica: A Leader in Sustainable Practice and Policy. (2016). United Nations Environment Programme
Costa Rica Unemployment Rates. (2016). Trading Economics.
Costa Rica. (2016). World Bank Data.
Fendt, L. (2015, March 30). The truth behind Costa Rica’s renewable energy. The Guardian.
Northrup, T. (2016). Costa Rica Has Only Used Renewable Energy For Electricity This Year. IFL Science.