#1. Costa Rica: showing the way forward

stories • Published October, 2021

Costa Rica’s rank on the Happy Planet Index in 2019: #1. Explore the data.

By: Eduard Müller

“Blessed is the Costa Rican mother who knows that her son at birth will never be a soldier”

is a phrase that inspires pride among Costa Ricans. 

72 years without a military has allowed investments in education and health that set the stage for wellbeing and longevity in Costa Rica. An educated population fostered high environmental consciousness, only natural for a country with incredible beauty and biodiversity. The Costa Rican Constitution specifies that every person has the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and this right is defended. Rapid deforestation rates due to developmental policies in the 70s and 80s led to increased environmental awareness, the establishment of a Ministry of Environment, and to Costa Rica becoming one of the first countries to recognise the economic value of ecosystem services. These and other factors have more than doubled forest cover in Costa Rica since then. 

While biodiversity, water, and carbon were clearly identified for their monetary value, the recognition of scenic beauty as an ecosystem service also highlighted the importance of spiritual wellbeing. 

Maintaining the lead on the Happy Planet Index in the future?

Over the last decade Costa Rica’s Happy Planet Index score shows a slow downward tendency, very much linked to a reduction in the perception of wellbeing amongst the population. Growing measures to reduce the size and function of government, as private economic development is pushed to the front row has resulted in the rapid growth of inequality and the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few.

Investments in environment, culture, and education have been reduced, becoming even more evident with COVID-19, leading to deep cuts in food and other social welfare programs. The 2021 State of Education report speaks of an “educational blackout” during the pandemic, which has made it evident that homeschooling, computers, and internet are not accessible to many families. 

A bright future ahead!

There is hope! Costa Rica has been the leader in many social and environmental issues and once again it has stepped in to show the world the way forward. Throughout the country, there are many innovative actions that will transform our current model for development. 

The Regenerate Costa Rica initiative is a good example, where holistic approaches are leading to regenerative development in tourism, agriculture, local governance, community development, increases in biodiversity and ecosystem services and soil carbon as effective solutions to climate change. Food is being produced in abundance by marginalised communities, with high diversity intercropping, bringing soil back to life and eliminating completely the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Biodiversity is rapidly increasing. Communities are coming together to co-create their future and actively become part of society. Regenerative tourism is already gaining traction in the sector and will be a powerful engine for Costa Rica to ‘bounce beyond’, instead of ‘building back better’ post-pandemic. 

About the Author

Eduard Müller is the Founder and President of the University for International Cooperation, Costa Rica. He is a global leader in regenerative development. 
Connect with Eduard on LinkedIn.

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