Tuesday, November 20, 2012

From Demilitarization to Bioliteracy: How Costa Rica has Become a Biodiversity-Friendly Country

One of the most well-known facts about Costa Rica is the elimination of its military army in 1948. The long-term, positive impact this decision has had in the nation’s development is a collection of benefits that we are still discovering and learning about as we move forward. You may be thinking: what does demilitarization have to do with biodiversity?

For 64 years, several generations of Costa Ricans have been born under a State that has a very high regard for human life. Having no military implies that under no circumstance, a political conflict will become violent through the use of weapons. It also implies that no aggressor, no invader, no trespasser that attempts to violate the country’s territorial integrity or sovereignty will ever be repealed using institutional, violent means.

This decision has shaped the mindset, culture and professional choices of millions of people throughout the last few decades. Most importantly, it has built in many of us the awareness and sensitivity to appreciate life in all its forms, since we have not been taught or raised to end, destroy or offend the lives of other humans.

The conditions of peace that Costa Rica has offered since 1948 have allowed many people to develop expertise in science, arts and humanities, a possibility that is unfortunately difficult in nations that endure long, violent conflicts. Since the 1950s, Costa Rican professionals specialized in fields that offered optimal learning conditions in the country’s natural environment. Today it is a very pleasant part of our history that renewable energies were developed since 1955 as an opportunity to generate electricity from the abundant sources of hydropower along several of the country’s rivers, lakes and waterfalls.

One of the results of these peaceful conditions for human development has been a growing bioliteracy over generations. I would define bioliteracy as the understanding of ecological processes and the richness that derives from them. In a country with outstanding natural characteristics, one is very frequently faced with amazing natural beauty and wealth, making it easier to develop empathy and appreciation for birds and snakes, trees and flowers, whales and dolphins that visit and live in Costa Rica. 

This bioliteracy has facilitated the adoption of the mentality “know-save-use” regarding biodiversity. First, it is important to know the natural wealth in a country’s surrounding ecosystems. As you hear a bird sing or appreciate a colorful tree blossom or experience the might of a whale in open ocean, it is easy to feel a connection with other life forms. Then, making political and economic efforts to preserve ecosystems and save species is more likely, as there is high awareness of such unique high concentration of living organisms in a fairly small territory like Costa Rica. As a result, the use of natural resources for human development and economic growth will happen in observance of other living beings.

This poses an interesting dilemma that needs to be decided by every generation’s leaders: should progress cost us our natural environment? In 1979, leaders chose to stop deforestation, preserve remaining forests and recover the ones that had been lost. A few people made an invaluable contribution to Costa Rica’s biodiversity by implementing an innovative policy that offered economic incentives for conservation. Today, we talk about Payment for Environmental Services, and it is said to be a policy innovation made in Costa Rica. This has recovered nearly half a million hectares of forests, transferring to property owners some US$200 million (JP¥16,000,000,000) in the course of three decades of public, private and international efforts.
In times when humanity’s consumption of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources provokes an ecological footprint that far exceeds the planet’s ability to naturally recover and replenish them, Costa Rica has become the focus of international attention as a result of the country’s economic success while simultaneously reforesting and improving ecosystemic performance. In the last 30 years, Costa Rican GDP has tripled and forest coverage has doubled. This, more than a case of sustainable development, is a case of regenerative development. Instead of setting the goal of not harming nature, Costa Rica has accomplished the goal of enriching nature while improving socioeconomic conditions for its people.

Innovation and entrepreneurship have become important components of this process. In 1989, a group of local and foreign visionary experts followed Dr. Rodrigo Gámez’s initiative to create the Biodiversity Institute, a non-governmental, not-for-profit institution that has been declared of public interest by the government, due to its enormous contribution to environmental conservation, scientific discoveries, bioliteracy and ecosystemic recovery. A few weeks ago, at the COP 11 that took place at Hyderabad, India, Dr. Gámez was awarded the AEON Foundation Midori Prize of Biodiversity, a well-deserved recognition for his efforts to improve the quality of all forms of life on Earth.

For nearly 25 years, the Costa Rican tourist industry has become instrumental in the promotion of ecological tourism, offering abundant business opportunities that have triggered private innovation in the form of ecological activities such as canopy or tree rappelling, surfing and river rafting, as well as tours for bird-watching, whale-watching and turtle-watching.

Public innovation has also played a significant role in the process of improving facilities and conditions for tourists to enjoy nature intensely. In 1996, a public program called Ecological Blue Flag was introduced to promote a healthy competition between tourist destinations, nature reserves and national parks, hotels and government institutions, to comply with sustainability requirements in order to obtain a blue flag that is to be displayed publicly. Every year, each entity must renew its “blue flag” status, raising national and international awareness about these efforts, which attract tourists by the hundreds of thousands.

In 1999, Costa Rica received one million foreign tourists for the first time. Ten years later, it reached two million, despite terrorist attacks in New York or the global economic recession.

Today, the country’s aspiration is to become a global leader in green growth, promoting regenerative development through ecological tourism, commercial use of biodiversity for biotechnology and attracting more modern technologies for renewable energy generation. With this strategy in place, a strong relationship with a country like Japan could create shared value for mutual benefit, and also for the benefit of people from other countries and even for other forms of life.

I hope I have managed to explain the relationship between demilitarization and biodiversity, and explain why Costa Rica means “rich coast” in Spanish, and why it is recognized as the country that has made Peace with Nature.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Future Cities and Green Growth

Imagine the following newspaper front page:

"Two countries sign the first Green Trade Partnership -GTP. The agreement aims at promoting investment, infrastructure development, transfer, manufacturing and international trade of smart city technologies, renewable energies, bio-industry, environmentally sustainable agriculture, and special visa conditions for tourists and businessmen and women that will engage in conservation and eco-tourism activities."

We want to believe that Japan has the right conditions to be one of those two countries. I already has the technology, the policy, the infrastructure, the financial capability, the track record and, most importantly, the urgency to move faster towards a low-carbon economy, reducing the country's ecological footprint.

We also believe that Costa Rica is a likely partner for this green growth initiative. In the last 30 years, Costa Rica has tripled its GDP and doubled its forest coverage at the same time. More than sustainable development, Costa Rica is an example of regenerative development.

With 95% of electricity from renewable sources and almost 30% of its ecosystems under legal protection, it is clear that Costa Rica is already a green country.

Today we want to invite you to imagine the newspaper headline and imagine it with your country's name on it.

What will it take to change the world as we know it? A lot of work and commitment indeed. First and foremost, it must start with a vision we can share and agree upon.

It is my great honor to introduce Dr. Rene Castro, Costa Rican Minister. His vision of a more prosperous world has changed Costa Rica since 1994 when he was Environment and Energy Minister for the first time, and I was a first year Law student. His influence in my career has been very profound.

I want to thank Ota-san from JICA and Kondo-san from the Ministry of Internal Communications for accepting to share their vision with you today. It is my firm belief that smart cities are the future. Japan knows it and it is an idea that could transform the world as we know it.

I also want to thank the Inter-American Development Bank, the Latin American Association of Japan, and Aoyama Gakuin University for supporting and co-sponsoring this event and taking on the challenge to create shared value together.

Finally, I thank you all for coming, fellow Ambassadors and diplomats, public officers of the Japanese government, executives of private corporations, professors, students and friends. I hope we can imagine the future together.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Conflictos, costos y beneficios

Un conflicto es una incompatibilidad de objetivos. Varios niños pueden jugar con la misma bola. No todos podrán llevársela para la casa, por más fervientemente que lo deseen.

Los costos en un conflicto son múltiples, sobre todo los que implican recursos no renovables que se agotan irreparablemente. El más valioso de ellos es, sin duda, el tiempo, que se consume para siempre en cada instante que transcurre.

En un conflicto, el tiempo que invierten las partes atizando la incompatibilidad es tiempo que pierden ellas y también otros que indirectamente podrían verse afectados.

De una relación conflictiva, las partes nunca derivarán más beneficios que costos. Habrá quienes ganen a expensas del conflicto de otros, como los fabricantes y comerciantes de armas en las guerras. Pero los agentes que deciden permanecer en un conflicto o trascenderlo nunca ganarán más de lo que pierden permaneciendo en él.

La trascendencia de un conflicto es siempre posible. Es de mentes perezosas pensar que "la única opción es pelear." Se requiere ingenio y creatividad para imaginar escenarios en los que las partes involucradas puedan obtener más beneficios que costos.

Ese proceso de innovación tendrá mayor probabilidad de éxito si todas las partes son representadas en ambientes que faciliten la búsqueda de opciones a través de métodos eficaces de transformación de conflictos.

Los beneficios que trae la creación de un escenario de paz entre las partes son ilimitados. El más palpable, otra vez, es el tiempo. Tan pronto sea superado un conflicto, las partes podrán emprender la producción de bienestar que les corresponda y les convenga. Entre más pronto sea transformado un conflicto, más pronto comenzará a generarse la nueva riqueza a la que las partes aspiren.

Esto es tan cierto para los conflictos ambientales que aquejan a nuestro planeta como para las disputas domésticas que son un lastre para el desarrollo de toda una comunidad o un país.

A todos nos conviene hacer esfuerzos para transformar la crisis en oportunidad. Total, son caras de la misma moneda.