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Environmental efforts send Costa Rica to top of Human Development Index in Latin America

January 13, 2021

Costa Rica climbed in the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2020 after the UN for the first time incorporated criteria on environmental protection in its measurement, placing the country as a leader in Latin America.

“Costa Rica has a solid base of natural capital, it is moving toward a green economy — a decarbonization — it is modifying its matrix (of electricity generation) and seeks to modify the energy matrix to electrify public transport,” José Vicente Troya, representative of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in the Central American country, told AFP on Tuesday.

Troya explained that the conventional HDI, applied since 1990 by the UNDP, contemplates per capita income and access to health and education. With these criteria, Costa Rica appears in 62nd place among the 190 countries analyzed, just behind the Latin American leaders Uruguay (55) and Panama (57).

But for its 2020 measurement, the HDI it included a criterion of “planetary pressure” based on two indicators: carbon dioxide emissions and the material footprint of the economy, both per capita, through which Costa Rica rose in the index.

Forests and renewable energy

By incorporating the environmental criteria, Costa Rica climbs to position 25, the world’s greatest advance, which Troya attributed to the country’s forest cover — 52% of national territory, offsetting CO2 emissions.

With this, Costa Rica ranked first in Latin America in the most recent ranking, published at the end of December.

Troya also cited the electricity generation matrix, of which 98% is powered through renewable sources.

In addition, Costa Rica launched a decarbonization plan in 2018 that seeks to eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050.

Panama also climbed 30 places by incorporating environmental criteria, while Uruguay lost 20 places.

However, Troya highlighted that Costa Rica has serious environmental deficiencies, such as the excessive use of agrochemicals, and great social and political challenges to reach a higher level of development.

Gender inequality

“Costa Rica has the honor and recognition of being the country that advances the most in the HDI adjusted by planetary pressure, but there are challenges not only in environmental problems, but also in the social sphere and political participation,” Troya said.

He cited gender inequality, a component in which the Central American country has greater deficiencies than other Latin American nations with similar levels of development.

In Costa Rica, 76% of men are part of the labor market, compared to only 48% of women.

At the same time, men have a per capita gross national income of $23,500 per year, compared to $13,476 for women, according to UN figures.

“It is a matter of great concern, because the main obstacle to advancing development goals is gender inequality,” Troya warned.

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