Case Studies

Costa Rica – Investing in Social and Ecological Wellbeing

Tags: Wellbeing Policy Design

Costa Rica often stands out as a unique development story. It has somehow achieved high levels of wellbeing with a relatively low GDP and minimal pressures on the environment.

Costa Rica is ranked amongst the best performers on the Social Progress Index, with scores divided into three categories: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity.

Costa Rica’s success in wellbeing can, in part, be attributed to crucial policy decisions in the ’50s and ’60s, following a brutal civil war. During this time, the Constitution was revised to prioritise peace by abolishing the military and requiring the redirection of those resources to social spending on healthcare, education, and social security for the country. The redirection of defense spending to improve education, health care and a durable social safety net was done through policies covering social service (universal access to health and education, reforestation, ecosystem services and resource taxation (water tax).

Today, Costa Rica outperforms the United States on life expectancy (81.0 versus 79.1 years), democracy (a full democracy versus a flawed democracy), and population life evaluation (7.1 out of 10 versus 6.9), and has a social progress score far closer to that of the U.S. and other more developed countries than to many of its economic peers. Costa Rica also scores higher than the U.S. for health and wellness, environmental quality and personal rights. This is all despite having an average income more than three times smaller than in the United States.

On his global travels to learn about wellbeing, Christopher Boyce described the country’s national pride in living a simple, yet happy, relational lifestyle – referred to as the “pura vida”.

Costa Rica is a global leader for its environmental policies and accomplishments, which have helped the country build its Green Trademark. The pioneering Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program has been successful in promoting forest and biodiversity conservation; making Costa Rica the only tropical country in the world that has reversed deforestation.

The country has a National Decarbonisation Plan (2018-2050), which includes strategies for all sectors of the economy like public and private transport, energy industry, waste, and agriculture. It is notable that this plan is more ambitious than Costa Rica’s Paris Agreement targets for 2030 and 2050.

With a recent history of generating more than 95% of its domestic electricity from renewable energy, Costa Rica is committed to achieving 100% electricity from renewable energy by 2030 and fully decarbonising by 2050.

Find out more here.

Find out more:

Want to join
the discussion?
Let us know what
you would like
to write about!