Anne Else: Costa Rican environmental policy is pura vida

Wednesday, June 19, 2019 - 10:10am

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Anne Else

In Costa Rica, there is a relaxed pace in both wild life and human nature. It is a place to truly take in the untouched world around you. When I visit, my favorite spots to explore are the empty miles of coast line, waterfalls or jungle pathways. Beaches are stripped away of human presence and footprints through the circuitous cycle of washing waves. To experience Costa Rica is to understand the beauty and importance of a place that values the natural world. This reverence for the earth can only be accomplished through the attention of people and the prevention of immense destruction that is relatively easy for humans to impose upon the natural world.

I have read about the vast environmental programs that the Costa Rican government wants to implement, and it is inspiring for the rest of the world. It plans to become a plastic-free and carbon-free country through policy work and environmental determination.

There have been a few conflicting prediction dates on when it will all come together, but they are currently working on steps to reach a carbon-neutral state. Costa Rica is already one of the leading countries in renewable energy. Its renewable energy sources provide the country with about 99 percent of its energy needs. This dedication to sustainable energy resources allows the country to uphold its conservation efforts. Through the environmental plan, Costa Rica projects that it will get to a point of zero net emissions. This means that its conservation efforts, such as reforesting and managing land correctly, will offset the amount of emissions being produced. This balancing act means that the country is limiting carbon emissions as well as taking a proactive role in the management of its expansive rainforests and beaches.

In addition to its carbon-neutral advancements, the nation announced its plans to become completely plastic free by 2021. This would make it the first country to complete such a task. The country as a whole is working to replace plastics with biodegradable or sustainable alternatives in order to reduce the harmful impact of plastics in landfills and oceans. While visiting Costa Rica, I saw this reduction of plastic across several fields. I noticed national advertisements for alternatives, as well as local efforts to reduce waste. Handmade posters decorated the walls of cafés that promoted a plastic free environment. Coffee shops only provided compostable materials and cardboard straws. Family-run souvenir shops skipped plastic bags and posted up phrases like “Do you really need a bag? Say NO to plastic bags.” It was a hopeful sight to see that the Costa Rican people really supported the country’s push for environmental change. This underscores that community level passion is instrumental in fueling the drive for governmental and nation-wide policy. 

Some skeptics have explained that these ambitious plans will be too difficult to achieve by 2021. In an article from Vox, Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, the country’s minister of environment and energy, explained that “some people have misunderstood the President’s declarations because we don’t plan to ban the use of fossil fuels, we plan to phase them out through new policies and incentives so that eventually, down the road, they will be useless.” It is clear that this will not be a one-step process of simply banning everything that stands in the way of environmental purity.

Most of the country’s emissions come from the transportation sector, which is reportedly one of the hardest areas to decarbonize quickly. The high demand for transportation and private ownership could be due to the expansive lands and distance between cities. In addition to the large territory, I noticed that most roads wind through jungles and mountains, which seemingly makes it even more difficult and slow to travel by car. These long distances ultimately create a higher need for gas and thus higher rates of emissions. The government’s fix for this is to incentivize cleaner options such as electric cars in order to reduce the carbon footprint in the transportation front.  

From international news to local observations, it is clear that this Central American country is trying to raise awareness and care for the beautiful environment it calls home. Though some of the government’s claims are difficult to achieve without some large overhauls of emissions and product usage, the mere fact that it is instigating these changes is quite revolutionary. Costa Rica is looking to be the first country to achieve its goals and set policies and passion for the betterment of its people’s future. I only hope that the rest of the world looks to its intelligence and vigor in its strive for a sustainable nation and seeks to follow suit.

Anne Else can be reached at aelse@umich.edu.