Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada wants to decarbonize the global economy. This isn’t just a campaign slogan, either — he started his presidency in 2018 by declaring a ban on fossil fuels.
"Decarbonization is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first," Alvarado said at the time.
"We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies,” he added.
Since then, he’s overseen an expansion of renewable energy, various conservation and restoration projects, and has put his country on track to decarbonizing by 2050.
He’s also been urging his fellow world leaders to join him. Now, Alvarado is calling on countries to commit to protect 30% of land and marine spaces by 2030, according to the Guardian.
The effort is part of the High Ambition Coalition (HAC) for Nature and People, an intergovernmental group that seeks to prevent biodiversity loss and the collapse of ecosystems. To corral support, the United Nations designated the next 10 years “the decade on restoration."
“Our approach is to lead by example. As Mandela said, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done,’” Alvarado told the Guardian. “Conservation is one of the key factors that scientists point out as relevant for protecting biodiversity and also for addressing the climate crisis. But working alone, it’s not as effective.”
Like in other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted Costa Rica’s economy and reduced government revenue, forcing hard conversations and policy decisions, the Guardian noted. But the months ahead present an opportunity for countries worldwide to break with the former status quo and forge a new path.
Few countries provide as clear an example for the way forward as Costa Rica and that’s evident in the way the president discusses the climate crisis.
“More and more, the real impacts of the climate crisis on our societies is evident,” Alvarado told the Guardian. “Just in this past year, Central America was hit by two consecutive hurricanes: Hurricane Iota and Hurricane Eta. Particularly in Nicaragua and Honduras, not only in terms of deaths but also in terms of production and the potential in terms of unemployment, the migrations that it could produce mean you cannot only see the storms in isolation as hurricanes.”
“Scientists say that hurricanes in the region have become more frequent and stronger. This is going to have effects in our societies in terms of economic growth, of jobs, of inequality, of inequality in terms of women, on migration,” he said.
Costa Rica has taken steps to protect itself from climate change. Recognizing the threat rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns pose to biodiversity, the country has put 26% of its environment under protection. The country has also embarked on an effort to protect its water supplies. Scientists are even planting new climate-resilient coral along its shorelines to restore deteriorating reefs.
These are the types of interventions that can be prioritized in recovery plans in the aftermath of the pandemic.
And Alvarado thinks that the public appetite for this movement is growing.
“Environmental policies do not necessarily have unanimous consensus,” he told the Guardian. For the past decades, they have been the dominant DNA of Costa Rica but there are also some people saying that perhaps we should be exploiting more. But still, I believe that’s very far away from our DNA.”