Costa Rica is getting something right. The Central American country of stunning beaches, rainforests, and biodiversity, is also known for its stable democracy and educated population.

Its president, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, said at Davos 2019: “Seventy years ago, Costa Rica did away with the army. This allows for many things. Eight percent of our GDP is invested in education because we don’t have to spend on the army. So our strength is human talent, human wellbeing.”

President Alvarado said not spending on the armed forces also allowed his country to protect the environment. Costa Rica generates more than 99% of its electricity from renewable sources, with the vast majority from hydroelectric dams.

While this is a major achievement, electricity only represents a small proportion of the country’s energy usage, as many homes use gas for heating, and fuel for their cars.

Air quality in Costa Rica, as in many countries around the world, is a concern, and some parts of the capital San Jose breach World Health Organization limits for air pollution.

The Costa Rican government has used taxes collected on the sale of fossil fuels to pay for the protection of forests.

President Alvarado said: “We saw in the eighties that the forest coverage was reduced to 20% due to animal farming and timber. We’ve managed to recover all this and we’re back to forest coverage of 50%. By this we are combating climate change.”

Forests are of crucial importance to the country’s biodiversity, which hosts more than five per cent of the world’s species, despite a landmass that covers just 0.03% of the planet.

President Alvarado said these efforts have helped boost Costa Rica’s economy. “Many people say that to protect the environment goes against the economy. Whereas it’s the complete contrary. Our tourism has grown precisely because of this.”

As a result, Costa Rica is the happiest and most sustainable country on Earth, according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI).

This index, which has been published four times since 2006, takes the wellbeing and longevity of a population; measures how equally both are distributed; then sets the result against each country’s ecological footprint. And Costa Rica has topped the poll three times out of four.

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