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Ecological footprint of
Costa Rica has again topped the Happy Planet Index rankings with a substantial lead - having previously come top in our 2009 and 2012 editions. This tropical Central-American country is home to the greatest density of species in the world. Costa Rica’s GDP per capita is less than a quarter of the size of many Western European and North American countries, and is primarily based on tourism, agriculture and exports.
People living in Costa Rica have higher wellbeing than the residents of many rich nations, including the USA and the UK, and live longer than people in the USA. And all of this is achieved with a per capita Ecological Footprint that’s just one third of the size of the USA’s.
What’s working well in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949, and has since reallocated army funds to be spent on education, health and pensions . In 2012, Costa Rica invested more in education and health as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product than the UK. Professor Mariano Rojas, a Costa Rican economist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, attributes Costa Ricans’ high wellbeing to a culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods.
Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. The Costa Rican government uses taxes collected on the sale of fossil fuels to pay for the protection of forests.
In 2015, the country was able to produce 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, and the government continues to invest in renewable energy generation in an effort to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2021.
What could be improved?
Income inequality in Costa Rica is particularly high - in part because Costa Rica’s tax system does not effectively redistribute wealth across the population. And while Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental sustainability is impressive, its Ecological Footprint isn’t yet small enough to be completely sustainable.
Photo credit: CC Pasha Kirillov