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Costa Rica: Where sustainability matters

Trading in coffee is one thing, but ensuring that the process is fair, equitable, ecological and sustainable is another – and one that is fundamental to the way that we at DR Wakefield go about our operations.

Therefore, it should come as little surprise to anybody in the know that Costa Rica is one of our sourcing grounds, as it is – unbeknown to many perhaps – one of the most sustainable countries in the whole world.

Looking after the people

Sustainability is fundamentally tied up in people. It is not just about looking after the planet – it concerns, just as much, the people involved in the trading process, ensuring that they are not exploited, have the means to live comfortably and support themselves, have access to the training and resources they need, and so on.

So, if Costa Rica is high up in terms of sustainability, the statistics concerning human development must surely reflect this.

And they do. Its Human Development Index (HDI) has consistently performed well, ranked 62nd in the whole world last year out of 187 countries and territories – up from 69th in 2011.

According to the official report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): “Between 1980 and 2012, Costa Rica’s HDI value increased from 0.621 to 0.773 – an increase of 24 per cent or average annual increase of about 0.7 per cent.”

Just three years ago, the UNDP gave the nation credit for achieving a much higher level of human development than other countries with the same amount of income. The following year, its record had improved and surpassed the average for the area.

Taking care of the environment

However, the country also takes great care of and pride in its environment, its natural resources and the overarching beauty of the country.

The UNDP Human Development Report 2011 – entitled Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future For All – provides evidence enough of Costa Rica’s commitment to the environment.

“Successive governments in Costa Rica have implemented policies and built institutions with environmental objectives in mind. In 1955, Costa Rica established the Institute for Tourism to protect the country’s natural resources, but it was the forestry legislation of the late 1980s that really launched its environmental policy,” it reads.

Breaking down the care of the forests into carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, water flow regulation and scenery, the government helped to lay the foundations for what it calls “the population’s pride in the country’s beauty, biodiversity and natural resources”.

One of the reasons that such policies have been able to be so successfully implemented is due to not only the support for them, but also the fact that Costa Rica has capitalised on the power of decentralisation. By co-managing natural resources and garnering the expertise and help of local communities, the country – along with others which have followed suit, such as the Philippines – has been able to safeguard its local environments far more effectively.

Continuing progress

Back in 2007, Costa Rica set itself the goal of becoming the first carbon-neutral country by 2021. Following this, two years later the New Economics Foundation named it top dog on its Happy Planet Index – an accolade it scooped again last year – as well as recognised it as the greenest country in the whole world.

In 2011, the same programme commended Costa Rica for its environmental sustainability too, as it was praised for being the only country to hit all of the five criteria used to measure environmental sustainability – those being greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, water use, water access and air pollution, with the latter two labelled as local impacts as opposed to global threats (the first three). Germany, the Philippines and Sweden received a pat on the back for four out of the five categories.

Last year, it also performed particularly well and is now ranked fifth in the world – first among the Americas – according to the 2012 Environmental Performance Index, while recreational hunting was also outlawed due to overwhelming support.

The aforementioned UNDP 2011 sustainability report states that only seven developing countries – Bhutan, China, Costa Rica, Chile, El Salvador, India, and Vietnam – have evolved from being deforesting nations to reforesting ones, using support from both domestic and international schemes.

Costa Rica specifically boasted a deforestation rate of 0.8 per cent a year between 1990 and 2000. The following decade, this figure had transitioned to a reforestation rate of 0.9 per cent.

For Costa Rica, clearly there is always more that can – and seemingly will – be done.