President Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica delivered the 19th U Thant Distinguished Lecture to a standing-room-only audience at the United Nations University headquarters in Tokyo. The president laid out her vision for a sustainable future for Costa Rica, and her hope that the country could serve as a guide for global sustainable development. Environmental preservation and a commitment to demilitarization have been defining features of Costa Rica’s domestic policy in recent history. The President also highlighted the nation’s focus on human development, noting that its people are its most important asset. For Costa Rica, environmental protection and human development go hand in hand.
War and the exploitation of natural resources remain among the most serious threats facing humanity. The president pointed to Costa Rica’s past and planned future efforts to mitigate these threats, notable examples being the constitutional abolishment of the country’s army and its commitment to become carbon neutral by 2021. On 1 December 2011, Costa Rica celebrated 63 years without an army. Demilitarization has allowed military expenditure to be reallocated to health, education and sanitation initiatives, therefore contributing to development as well as to peace.
Currently, 95 per cent of Costa Rica’s energy comes from renewable energy sources. By 2021, it is projected that this will increase to 100%, though this is not without its challenges. New methods of energy production need to be developed that do not have a negative impact on the natural environment that Costa Rica seeks to preserve. While reducing the production of global warming gases, efforts are being made to increase forest cover, thereby helping to protect and preserve the country’s rich biodiversity.
The president highlighted the long and fruitful diplomatic relationship between Costa Rica and Japan, and noted the shared values of the two countries in terms of their commitment to peace and the natural world. In response to the devastation from the 11 March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan, the president expressed her belief that the fortitude and resilience of the Japanese people will enable them to recover from the country’s most recent natural disasters.
Looking to the future, President Chinchilla expressed her hope that Costa Rica could provide a road map for sustainable environmental and human development, and underscored the need to take global responsibility for our planet and its inhabitants. As global citizens, we need to face the future together, she said. “There are no passengers in this planet; we are all crew members.”
The president engaged in a question and answer session with the audience, moderated by Yoshihisa Ueda of the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Office in Asia. Questions and comments touched on the growing number of female leaders in Latin America, the effect of drug trafficking, and the country’s high position on the “Happy Planet Index”, among others. The president explained that strong family ties, access to social welfare, and investment in the environment and human development all contribute significantly to the well-being of Costa Rica’s citizens. While the Latin American region was making significant progress in gender equality, drug trafficking represents a significant challenge. In this context, the president pointed to Costa Rica’s efforts to eliminate corruption, encourage neutral journalism and invest in education.
Following the lecture, President Chinchilla was welcomed backstage to meet with UNU graduate students and research fellows, and a number of Costa Rican citizens residing in Japan. The setting was a valuable opportunity for the University’s students and young researchers to engage with the president in an informal setting.