The Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado signed a decree in February 2019 to fully decarbonize by the year 2050.
By R. Viswanathan
Costa Rica is set to join OECD in the next few days, after signing of the accession agreement. It is the fourth country from Latin America to join OECD, after Mexico, Colombia and Chile. But it is much different from them as well as the rest of OECD members.
The materially rich OECD club should feel truly honoured to have as its member Costa Rica which is morally richer than all the other members of the group. The small country of five million people have nobler achievements and loftier vision than any of the 37 OECD countries with a combined population of 1.3 billion.
Costa Rica has made history in the world by having abolished its armed forces in 1948. It is a civilisational advance. The country proclaims proudly that they spend their money on education and healthcare instead of arms. Oscar Arias, the former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner said ¨ Our children walk with books under their arms rather than guns on their shoulders. We are an unarmed people, whose children have never seen a fighter or a tank or a warship. We are a people without arms and we are fighting to continue to be a people without hunger “.
Arias said, “My country is a country of teachers and peace. We discuss our successes and failures in complete freedom. We believe in dialogue, in agreement, in reaching a consensus, in convincing our opponents, not defeating them. We prefer raising the fallen to crushing them, because we believe that no one possesses the absolute truth. Education in my country has been compulsory and free for 118 years”.
While Costa has spent zero dollars in arms, the leading OECD member USA has spent over six trillion dollars in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq alone since 2000, killing over 800,000 of which 300,000 were civilians and displacing over 21 million people.
It is creditable that Costa Rica has remained as a beacon of peace, right in the middle of the Central American region which has suffered so many conflicts and civil war till the nineties and is even now continuing to face very high rates of crime and violence.
Costa Rica is not a passive country of peace. It had mediated and helped to end the Central American civil war with a peace agreement in 1987. President Oscar Arias got Nobel prize for this.
The little Costa Rica stood up to the mighty USA and refused them permission to use its territory for the Contra wars in the eighties. The other Central American countries who were bullied into collusion by the US are paying the price even now. President Arias had rebuked the Sandinistas for their lack of democracy and resisted US attempts to alter the contents of the peace plan that was signed in 1987.
Costa Rica has established a full-fledged University of Peace since 1980 to train young people for world peace. Every year there are a few Indian students who join this University.
In 1869, the country became one of the first in the world to make education both free and obligatory, funded by the state’s share of the great coffee wealth. The literacy rate of Costa Rica is one of the highest in Latin America. Today, the country has become like a kind of silicon valley with many IT and tech companies making and exporting high tech products and services.
Costa Rica has remained as a beacon of solid and vibrant democratic stability and maturity in Latin America in the last seven decades. This was not easy given the fact that the country is geographically sandwiched between dictatorships in the South and North for many years. There no far-right or far-left extremist parties in the country. No Costa Rican Trump or Bolsonaro to infect with the political virus of hatred and polarization.
Costa Rica is a leader in sustainable development, clean energy and ecotourism. It was one of the first in the world which combined its ministries of energy and the environment back in the 1970s. The country generates an impressive 99 per cent of its energy from renewable sources. For several years now, Costa Rica has run entirely on renewable energy for an average of about 300 days per year. The country’s biggest source of energy is hydroelectricity (78%) followed by wind power (10.29%) geothermal energy ( 10.23%), solar (0.84%) and biomass. In 1997, The government introduced a carbon tax on emissions. The funds generated from this tax is being used to pay indigenous communities to protect their surrounding forests. The country has reversed deforestation with its proactive policies. Thanks to this, the forest cover is twice as much it was three decades ago.
The Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado signed a decree in February 2019 to fully decarbonize by the year 2050. “Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first”. He has set a goal of zero-emission public transportation system by 2035. This is not the personal agenda of President Alvarado. This policy was pursued by his predecessor and there is a consensus among all the political parties of the country and continuity of policies by successive governments.
Costa Rica, where Latin America’s first COVID-19 case was reported on 6 March, is one of the most successful nations in the fight against the coronavirus. Its infection and death rates are lower than that of New Zealand. As of 21 May, the number of infections is 903 with 10 deaths in comparison to New Zealand’s 1503 cases and 21 deaths. The success was due to swift response and an excellent health care system. The Health Minister announced, “Those who present COVID-19 symptoms will be guaranteed medical attention and the State will assume the costs of treatment for those patients without the means to pay for it”. Costa Rica has universal healthcare, on which it spends a higher proportion (9.1% of GDP) of gross domestic product (GDP) than the OECD average of 9%.
Of course, Costa Rica has its own share of challenges like poverty, inequality, corruption and growing crime. But the scale of these are much very lower than in the rest of Latin America. The Costa Ricans are happy people. The World’s Database of Happiness has ranked Costa Rica as being the number #1 Happiest Nation on the planet among 148 other countries.
Their spirit of happiness comes alive in the way they respond when you ask them Como Esta? (How are you?) Pura Vida.. They do not respond with the normal ‘ bien’ (well). They say cheerfully “Pura Vida”. Literally it means pure life. But what the Costa Ricans mean is ¨full of life¨.
Let us hope that the peaceful and Pura Vida spirit of Costa Rica will inspire OECD whose members can learn much from Costa Rica. It is time for OECD to go beyond economic statistics and policies and take into account values and spirit of life.
(The author is a Latin America expert. Views expressed are personal.)