Courtesy UN Photo
When it comes to actually taking steps to promote sustainable development, innovation is key. One lesson that government leaders should take away from the interregnum between the 1992 Earth Summit and this year’s Rio+20 is that using old solutions will not solve new problems, and that dynamic approaches that account for ever changing conditions are essential.
On the topic of sustainable innovation, few if any countries can top Costa Rica. Recently voted by the New Economies Foundation as the happiest country on earth, Costa Rica boasts novel endeavors that have bolstered the country’s green economy, paving the way for both conservation and economic growth.
Much of Costa Rica’s sustainable initiatives began twenty years ago. Then, the government set aside 25 percent of the country’s land for conservation, to preserve biodiversity not found anywhere else on the planet. It also introduced a system of payments for environmental systems (PES), whereby farmers are compensated for leaving their land out of production, allowing plants and animals to flourish close to human activity.
The county has also actively embraced its ecotourism industry, which both brings money into the country, and provides an incentive for those within the country to maintain the nation’s rich ecological heritage. “We’ve cared for the environment rather well, and it’s one of the main reasons why tourists come here,” said Teofilo de la Torre Argüello, Costa Rica’s Minister of Environment and Energy. “They want to see our parks, our fauna, and our flora. There is a wide variety of places to visit in this country, despite its small size.”
The Minister also lauded his country’s ability to not only build an economic model that did not contribute to environmental degradation, but one that actively embraced environmental protection, proving that pursuing the health of the planet and the health of a country’s balance books are not mutually exclusive endeavors.
“Production, economic and social development, and care for the environment go hand in hand; for us they are inseparable,” says Mr. de la Torre.
As impressive as these pursuits are, they are only the beginning of Costa Rica’s quest to truly achieve sustainable development. The country aims to be 100 percent carbon neutral within the next ten years, and expects to see its already stable economy continue to grow as its trading partners recover from the global financial crisis.
Even a cursory look at Costa Rica reveals why it can lay claim to being the happiest country on Earth. A combination of economic expansion, in concert with environmental protection, has made the nation peaceful, secure, and a shining example of the promise of sustainable development.