A Green Recovery: Sustainable COVID-19 Recovery Plan in Costa Rica

By Ashley Brown

COVID-19 has devastated communities in Latin American countries, especially BIPOC communities. This health crisis has revealed clear inequities that these communities have been experiencing. In order to mitigate the destruction caused by this pandemic, we can look towards the goals of sustainability and sustainable development for constructive solutions. The COVID‐19 crisis highlights the need to extend the scope of sustainable development, and here there is the issue of the role of sustainable development in preventing future pandemics. Sustainability, at its core, was created to aid in the general population and the planet we occupy simultaneously. That said, Costa Rica has been recognized for their plan to limit their carbon emission to zero by 2050, the use of their 99% renewable electricity and for many their numerous other sustainable efforts. From eco-tourism to their renewably sources energy, they are considered global leaders. With this in mind, why and how could other regions of Latin America adapt a similar model?

“The SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] should not be something additional. It should be at the heart and core of government responsibilities.” Francisco Guzmán, Chief of Staff of the President of Mexico (United Nations, 2017).

The COVID-19 pandemic has elucidated the dire need for a more sustainable way of living. Sustainability is comprised of 17 goals which are meant to transform the world and secure the long and healthy existence of this planet and the organisms that inhabit it. They address the global challenges we face, including poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice (Sustainable Development Solutions Network, 2015). Costa Rica has historical been a trailblazer for their eco-friendly consciousness and consideration of these goals. The country first made the declaration to become carbon neutral in 2007 when its lead political figures determined that scientific evidence showed that the benefits of becoming carbon neutral strongly outweigh the costs down the road from inaction (Canney, 2018). Carbon neutrality occurs “when the net transfer of carbon into the atmosphere due to human activities over a given time is zero (Canney, 2018). The immediate response to the pandemic has centered around four areas: public health, vulnerable populations, the productivity sector and employment, and public policy and fiscal management (Inter-American Development Bank, 2021). In order to achieve this, it will take the cooperation not only of Costa Rican citizens, but of large corporations and government officials.

A spotlight has been shone on Costa Rica for their leadership in their sustainable efforts. One proposal that has served as a source of inspiration for many other countries is their decarbonization plan. The decarbonization plan provides a systematic and cohesive framework that includes various target goals and requires the cooperation of many departments. These goals include regulatory actions (e.g., establishing rules for setting the electricity price at electric vehicle charging stations), investments (notably, enabling public transportation), and studies (Inter-American Development Bank, 2021). This decarbonization plan will bring net benefits of US$41 billion to the country—through energy savings, lives saved from reduced road accidents, time saved thanks to less road congestion, and improved ecosystem services and agriculture yields, among other benefits (Inter-American Development Bank, 2021). Another significant aspect of Costa Rica’s sustainability plan is agricultural education. Education in general has long been valued by Costa Rican society. This project is expected to benefit some of the most vulnerable people in Costa Rica through access to better work opportunities in the agriculture sector while also helping them adapt to climate change and improve agricultural sustainability (Inter-American Development Bank, 2021). It is stated in the country’s constitution that education is to be an orderly process from pre-school through the university, which makes a "basic general education" both mandatory and free to all (Costa Rica, 1949). Transcending theses gaps in income, education, gender and, overall, equal opportunity is at the top of Costa Rica’s agenda many other countries are capable of following this example

The approach demonstrated by Costa Rica regarding their sustainable efforts is already being replicated in other countries interested in the long-term economic impact of decarbonizing, including Chile, Colombia, and Peru (Inter-American Development Bank, 2021). Due to its favorable reputation, the country has been able to lure international investment and cooperation to fuel both economic growth and conservation efforts. Given the international political acceptance of the sustainable development paradigm, the Costa Rican experience is central in the debates over the desirability to promote sustainable development as ideal model for development efforts worldwide (Herrera-Rodríguez, 2013). COVID-19 has revealed the clear path of harm that is being paved by large corporations and those in positions of power. This pandemic has also revealed the vulnerability to destruction faced by marginalized communities. In essence, for the sake of the well-being of our planet and the organisms that occupy it, sustainable development and practices are the most powerful tools we have.

Ashley Brown is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Nonfiction English Writing and Spanish with a minor in Africana Studies and certificates in Latin American Studies and Sustainability. She is also the President of the Latinx Student Association at Pitt. Ashley is primarily interested in racial and environmental justice, liberation movements for BIPOC, and raising awareness about Afro-Latindad. Upon graduating, she plans to pursue a career revolving around environmental sustainability and anti-racism.



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