The Central American nation intends to replace these wasteful, ocean-clogging items—such as plastic store bags, straws, coffee stirrers, containers and plastic cutlery—for biodegradable or water-soluble alternatives, or products made of renewable materials (think plant starches).
By Ariana López Peña
Costa Rica was the most environmentally advanced and happiest place on Earth last year, followed by Mexico, Colombia, Vanuatu and Vietnam.
So concluded the Happy Planet Index, which recently released its 2016 ranking of "where in the world people are using ecological resources most efficiently to live long, happy lives."
The Happy Planet Index measures life expectancy, well-being, environmental footprint and inequality to calculate nations' success—all areas where Costa Rica's government has made significant effort and investment.
Less War, More Health
In 1949, Costa Rica took a big gamble eliminating its army and investing military funds into health and education. The decision has paid off on numerous fronts.
By comparison, nearby El Salvador spends 3.42 percent of GDP on education, the U.S. spends 5.22 percent and Colombia allocates 4.67 percent.
In the environmental realm, Costa Rica has long been a pioneer. In the 1990s, the country passed a series of "green culture" laws including the tax-funded National Forests law that protects forests, waters, biodiversity and natural beauty as both tourist attractions and scientific resources. It also developed a financing system, supported by both the government and by international organizations, such as the World Bank, to pay for environmental protection programs.
Other green initiatives include the Eco-Marchamo, which is a voluntary complementary tax that allows drivers to offset 100 percent of the emissions generated by fuel consumption for one year and the Carbon Neutral Framework that incentives good environmental practice by Costa Rican companies.
Under President Luis Guillermo Solís, Costa Rica's national health policy also now includes the explicit goal of achieving "environmentally sustainable socio-economic development," based on the theory that such growth will better position the small country to face big international challenges, such as health crises, increasing violence and climate change.
In short, Costa Rica has built into its whole governance model the ability to face the major environmental and health challenges facing the world.
As a result, in addition to its top ranking on the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica also does very well on the Global Index of Happy Workers (at number three), in Doing Business 2017 (at number five) in the region Latin American and on the Individual Liberties Index. Costa Rica is also a leader within Central America in labour rights and ranks among the most competitive economies in Latin America. (There's more, too—you can find it here).
This reveals a key issue highlighted by the Happy Place Index: public policies have a great impact on the well-being of a populace.
Limits to the Rankings
But they're not the only factor and such rankings, while perhaps a point of pride for a tiny Central American nation, have serious limitations.
First, global indexes inevitably include certain indicators and exclude others. This can lead to certain cognitive dissonance. It is notable that among the WEF's top ten "happiest" places are two highly under-developed nations, Vanuatu and Bangladesh. Both not only have low global competitiveness but also do badly on the UN's Human Development Index (134th and 142nd, respectively).
How is it possible for a country to be eco-happy but underdeveloped?
Well, the Happy Planet Index does not look at such indicators as education, income, access to water and electricity or poverty rates. Accounting for those facts would create a more complete, and probably very different, perception of happiness.
Vanuatu, which the Happy Planet Index ranks fourth happiest in terms of sustainability, comes in 134th on Yale University's Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which examines how countries protect human health and the ecosystem. Costa Rica, first on the 2016 Happy Planet Index, ranks 42 place on the EPI. Meanwhile, Ecuador, tenth on the Happy Planet Index, is 76th in global competitiveness, according to the CDI's 2016-2017 rankings, and 103rd on Yale's EPI.
According to the UN's Conference on Trade and Development, the world's least-developed countries are characterized by having deficient per capita income and economic vulnerability. That is, at least 50 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty. They're also the countries that are most exposed to climate change and its consequences.
So is a country that's green necessarily a happy place?
What is Happiness?
The Happy Planet Index is useful in reconceptualizing happiness in terms of environmental well-being and sustainable practices, but it needs fine-tuning.
In underdeveloped countries, a low carbon footprint clearly has more to do with the lack of industry than with environmental policy. These countries simply didn't undergo the same economic growth processes that the rich world did, from the Industrial Revolution through to the second world war.
And it is confusing to talk about happiness in countries where life conditions are not even minimally acceptable. Even the authors of the report on the Happy Planet Index note when discussing Costa Rica that despite its environmental commitment, Costa Rica's ecological footprint is not small enough to be totally sustainable and that its income inequality remains quite high.
The same could be noted of the other top countries in the Happy Planet Index, Mexico and Colombia, whose 2014 GINI ratings of 48.2 and 53.5, respectively, reflect starkly uneven wealth distribution. In fact, Colombia is the second-most unequal country in Latin America, a region characterized by its wealth gap.
Costa Rica has achieved a lot since it turned away from war and toward national well-being a half century ago. But many challenges – from preventing violence to increasing income equality—remain for it to become both green and truly happy.
To create the kind of sustainability that fundamentally links human, environmental and social development, policy, science, education and citizen activism must all work together.
That's how we'll redefine the meaning of happiness—in Costa Rica and beyond.
Clean power superstar Costa Rica has hit another renewable energy milestone. The Central American country's electric grid has been powered entirely by its mix of hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass for 150 days this year and counting.
Costa Rica has a goal of only using green energy sources and carbon neutrality by 2021.Flickr
Impressively, as Mashable reported, the country has not used fossil fuels for electricity for the last 76 days, from June 16 to Sept. 2, according to data from the country's power operator, Costa Rica Electricity Institute (ICE).
According to an ICE
report, hydropower contributed about 80 percent of the country's electricity needs in August, followed by geothermal (12 percent), wind (7 percent) and solar energy (0.01 percent).
Costa Rica hasn't needed to rely on fossil fuels for electricity since June 16. "Since then, it's been 76 consecutive days in which all electricity has come from plants that use renewable resources," the ICE said.
"We are a small country with great goals!" ICE wrote on Facebook. "We remain committed to the goal of carbon neutrality for 2021."
Costa Rica is becoming well-known for its renewable energy accomplishments. Last year, the country generated nearly all of its electricity from renewables.
"We close 2015 with 99 percent clean energy!" ICE announced, adding that "the energy produced … in 2015 reaches 98.95 percent with renewable sources as of December 17."
"We are closing 2015 with renewable electricity milestones that have put us in the global spotlight," ICE electricity division chief Luis Pacheco told AFP last year.
Carlos Manuel Obregón, the executive president of ICE, said Costa Rica will soon switch on its massive Reventazón hydroelectric project. The dam's five turbines will have a generating capacity of 305.5 megawatts, or enough power for an estimated 525,000 homes, according to The Tico Times.
As EcoWatch previously mentioned, the majority of the country's energy comes from hydropower, thanks to a vast river system and abundant rainfall. Hydropower, however, is not without its faults.
"Hydropower has been called a 'methane factory' and 'methane bomb' that is just beginning to rear its ugly head as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions that have so-far been unaccounted for in climate change discussions and analyses," Wockner said last month.
Costa Rica's transportation sector is also still dependent on petroleum, and a new report from
Costa Rica News indicates that the total fuel consumption is growing, with sales increasing 11 percent compared to the same period last year.
And for a small country like Costa Rica, it's simply easier to consume less.
As Mashable explained:
"This nation of 4.9 million people generated about 10,713 gigawatt-hours of electricity in 2015, according to a July report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. The United States, by contrast, generated about 373 times more electricity, with roughly 4 million gigawatt-hours of total generation in 2015, according to data from the US Energy Information Administration."
Still, even with these circumstances and setbacks, Costa Rica's latest clean energy streak is something to be admired and an example for other countries to follow.
A plastic bag ban went into effect this month in Morocco, the second-largest plastic bag consumer after the U.S. But, officials say, its going to take some time for shops and retailers to get used to the new law.
Morocco's ban on the production and use of plastic bags went into effect July 1 after the plastic ban bill was passed by parliament in October 2015. As the July 1 deadline approached, shop owners scrambled to find and collect reusable bags. Green campaigners, AlJazeera reported, say consumers may need years to fully comply with the ban.
"It's a big cultural shift with that type of broader law," Jennie Romer, a New York-based lawyer," told AlJazeera. "As long as the government has the motivation to really enforce that. There is a lot of potential. The government entity that is implementing it has to be completely on board in order to make that really happen in practice."
Morocco uses about 3 billion plastic bags a year, according to the Moroccan Industry Ministry. The U.S. uses about 100 billion a year, according to the Earth Policy Institute, and 1 trillion are used globally per year.
The North African country has been working on banning plastic bags for years. A ban of the production and use of black plastic bags was put in place in 2009, but the bags were still being produced.
This time around, officials hope to prevent that situation by providing alternate solutions. Moulay Hafid Elalamy, industry minister and initiator of the bill, tweeted that bags made of paper and fabric will be made widely available.
Yassine Zegzouti, president of Mawarid, said changing consumer habits will be the toughest part.
"The formal sector will need four to five years to comply with the new law," Zegzouti said. "But the use of plastic bags is anchored in [consumer] habit. All actors need to change these habits to not have any damage in the future."
Morocco is ranked one of the world's greenest countries, along with Costa Rica, Bhutan and Ethiopia. The country's biggest achievements come in cracking down on carbon emissions and production of solar power. It is considered a green leader among developing nations.
A new International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publication outlining action plans for women to help them adapt to climate change and minimize its impact has been launched at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar.
A water taxi network owned and operated by women on the Nile that reduces emissions and provides fast, reliable public transport in a gridlocked Cairo transport system; a recycling project that empowers women as green entrepreneurs in Kathmandu; women-environmental whistleblowers on the coast of Liberia that assist the government in the collection of meteorological data to forecast the weather, acting as an early-warning system for storms and reporting environmental offenses; a carbon-footprint program run by community women and poetry singers in temples in Jordan and Nepal that communicate climate change messages. These are just a few innovative examples included in the book.
The Art of Implementation: Gender Strategies Transforming National and Regional Climate Change Decision Making focuses on the development of climate change and gender action plans—steps to be taken by women to adapt to climate change and minimize its impact. The publication includes a synthesis of strategies and action plans developed by the IUCN Global Gender Office on behalf of the Global Gender and Climate Alliance (GGCA) in Mozambique, Jordan, Egypt, Tanzania, Nepal, Haiti, Panama, Costa Rica, Liberia, the Arab League of States and the Central American Region. It also outlines the methodology used by IUCN.
“A critical step in the development of these action plans is the need to anchor global agreements within national contexts so as to take action on climate change at the local and national level, whilst harnessing the power of women in the process,” says Lorena Aguilar, IUCN’s Senior Global Gender Adviser. “The strategies and action plans represent a country’s intention to empower and respond to the needs of the often invisible 'other half' of the population in the context of climate change. They link national and global policy in a concrete manner, communicate the importance of gender in climate action and frame women as agents of change—and not merely as a 'vulnerable' group.”
The book outlines actions designed to adapt to climate change and minimize its impact that can be taken by women and other players in a variety of sectors covering topics as diverse as agriculture and food security, forests and REDD+, water, energy, health, urbanization, integrated coastal management, waste management, tourism, land use and disaster risk management. Each section also includes clear objectives, actions and indicators and identifies the specific institutions responsible for their implementation and delivery.
The action plans provide a comprehensive framework for the development of projects and their implementation, which has been agreed on by governments, UN institutions, contributing country partners, academia, the private sector and civil society, among others.
“Climate change will undermine the very foundation of socioeconomic development and will increase inequality and poverty,” says Tarja Halonen, Former President of Finland and main funding partner to the project. “It will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of poor women in developing countries, as the increasing droughts and storms will affect agriculture and water resources, which are often the responsibility of women.”
Until recently, policy responses at the global or national level did not reflect this reality. For more than twenty years, gender equality was absent from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and in decision-making by its Conference of the Parties and Subsidiary Bodies. Few National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs) or national communications submitted by Parties to the UNFCCC addressed gender issues in a comprehensive manner, and some did not mention gender considerations at all.
Following several years of advocacy, capacity building, and building awareness, governments have now agreed multilaterally that gender equality is a key component in achieving climate change goals. Since 2008, more than 60 official gender references have entered the UNFCCC negotiation text, and the final outcomes of the Cancun (2010) and Durban (2011) conferences included eight and seventeen references to gender, respectively.
With these global mandates in place, the urgent next step is to turn them into action and determine how to design climate change policies that address these issues.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.