Ecological Economies and Measuring Sustainability

ICADSCosta Rica, Environment, Latin America

By Carolina Arias Núñez

The Third Congress of the Mesoamerican Society of Ecological Economy (Cosmee) will take place from the 14th of the 19th of November 2016, at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez.

Two years ago, in March, I had the opportunity to attend, as a journalist, the Second Cosmee, at the Rodrigo Facio Campus of the University of Costa Rica in San José.

I would like to share a little bit about what happened at that Congress, because it seems like a valuable opportunity to discuss and to suggest environmental policies in our countries that, I hope, can be put in practice in the short term.

In EcoEco Alternatives 2014 – as the second Cosmee was called – there were 120 presentations from México, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panamá, and other countries, about ecological economies, alternative economic-ecological models and socio-environmental conflicts.

The first plenary session focused on the current necessity of an “ecological economy” for economic and environmental policies in Latin America, which tries to answer the question of what it means to be sustainable.

Practically speaking, what isn’t measured does not exist. As such, an ecological economy creates tools to measure the extent to which we are reaching sustainability goals. A related discipline is ecological politics, which seeks to understand how power relations and social conflicts are created, and how the ecological economy can be used to solve them.

At the close of the Second Cosmee, the Executive Director of the Neotropical Foundation of Costa Rica, Bernardo Aguilar (also the president of the Mesoamerican Society for Ecological Economy – SMEE) gave a summary of the achievements of the event.

In the case of Costa Rica, the presentation was entitled “Legal Project for the Valorization of Natural Capital and the Integration of Green Accounting in Development Planning, document 18,996.”

This project seeks to calculate how much is being invested in environmental causes and to quantify the investment as part of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This would require modifying the Environmental Organic Law and putting into practice concepts such as environmental accounts, with the goal of evaluating the use and value of natural resources: forests, water, soils, and mineral resources, among others.

Costa Rica prides itself on being a green country; however, very little is being done in terms of the relation between the economy and its effects on the environment.

The theme of the growing socio-environmental conflicts in the national, Latin America, and global realities, and the difficulty faced by social and political actors to resolve them, were also underlined at the forum.

Leonardo Merino, Research Coordinator for the State of the Costa Rican Nation Program highlighted the local character of the large number of socio-environmental conflicts, principally against the State, that have been happening in the country since 2011. These include topics such as: occupation and possession of land, use and competition for natural resources, and contamination of disputed borders.

Regarding topics discussed by other countries, critical analyses of the Yasuní project in Ecuador y environmental conflicts related to mining in South America were all presented. Additionally, communal forests in Mexico were proposed as alternative communities.

As such, the Comsee has been a useful platform to make suggestions regarding environmental policies that involve every Latin American. This year in Puerto Rico the conference will focus on the development of an environmental consciousness and the search for sustainable living, which is a worldwide necessity.

In Costa Rica, for example, the majority of the urban population continues to maintain a consumerist, comfort-seeking lifestyle; as one example, we ride alone in our cars, without car pooling, and do not create any incentives for it.

The present infrastructure has become inadequate for the number of vehicles, which generates high levels of emissions during the day and in traffic, which has led to decreased quality of air and quality of life in cities.

Furthermore, we are significantly behind in terms of our treatment of wastewater. This violates the human right to sanitation and, during the dry months of the year, we use thermal plants to generate electricity, which increases are carbon footprint.

These results have been seen in the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) from Yale University, which moved us from 5th to 54th place in 2014. (The 2016 report places Costa Rica at 42).

Even so, the 2016 report from the same university states, “Costa Rica has undertaken ambitious efforts to reduce its fossil fuel consumption. The Central American country achieved 99 percent renewable energy generation in 2015 – a milestone in the country’s 2008 play to go carbon neutral by 2021. With 80 percent of its electricity generated from hydropower, however, the country will be challenged to sustain its momentum in a changing climate that brought record droughts this past year.”

If you are interested in learning more about the challenges that Latin America faces regarding these environmental concerns, visit the webpage of the 2016 Cosmee and think about participation:


Carolina Arias Núñez is our newest staff member at ICADS. Trained as a journalist, Carolina studied in China and is a fluent speaker of Mandarian. She is currently helping to design a program to provide opportunities for Chinese students to study at ICADS.

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