San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Brit: Don’t Let CR’s ‘Family Silver’ Tarnish

British Embassy adviser Claire Hughes came to Costa Rica on a mission: To assess President Oscar Arias’ Peace with Nature initiative, and help to promote it among government ministries here.

Launched by Arias in July, the initiative proposed eight actions to combat environmental issues and global warming.

Hughes began her time in Costa Rica a believer in the country’s highly-touted green image. She soon found not everything is as it seems.

After six weeks on the road traveling the country top to bottom, Hughes sat down to discuss her findings with The Tico Times:

TT:What are your impressions of Peace with Nature? It’s been called window dressing?

CH: It wasn’t as advanced as I had perceived it to be. To be fair to them, the announcement in the media was made before the infrastructure was put in place. What they’ve been doing between then and now is actually putting together the project, trying to figure out what needs to be done. It’s extremely complex.

Climate change touches every aspect of life. Every government department needs to be touched. Not every government ministry is there yet.

What’s the problem?

I haven’t seen people from all departments grabbing it going into line and doing their bit. You have to set expectations…If you go out with a big singing and dancing message that says you’re going to change the world, that you’re going to be neutral by 2021, that’s great. But people want to know how you are going to get there. It’s important that Peace with Nature, as an initiative, becomes more transparent.

You’re not seeing that kind of leadership now?

Not yet, I don’t think.

Probably the most highly-touted goal of Peace with Nature is to be carbon neutral by 2021.Will we get there?

It’s probably only doable if every single person gets up to speed with climate change, and right now. From what I see, we’ve got a long way to go.

What do you see as the biggest hurdle in achieving this goal?

With every change in administration, they will have to plan for continuity, before the change happens. This is not something that has been easy in the past. The end goal of Peace with Nature transcends administrations.

That would mark a big development for Costa Rican political culture.

Do you feel you helped move things along?

People were very open to what we were doing. We even got invited into President Arias’ meeting with his ministers, for the first time in diplomatic history (laughing).

We did a presentation. You can take a horse to the water but can’t make it drink. We emphasized that change starts from the top. You’ve got to walk the walk, and make improvements in your own areas before you can effect change on everyone.

How important do you think climate change is to the average Costa Rican?

I don’t think there’s much of an awareness of what climate change is here. There is the frustrations of everyday life. There’s pollution, and traffic jams, but they’re not making the connection that all of that adds up to climate change.

How do you make people more aware? There might come a time, sooner rather than later, when people’s everyday life begins to be affected, by landslides, flooding, running out of water. The government, through programs like this one, can raise awareness. And the press. The press here needs to start asking the tough questions.

After six weeks here, what’s your impression of Costa Rica now?

I’m going to leave Costa Rica this time with a completely different impression. Internationally, Costa Rica has this green facade. But it doesn’t take much to get beyond that. I had a shock when I went to Tamarindo. It looked, at least from the outside, like completely uncontrolled development.

I couldn’t help but think, if I was a tourist, coming here thinking that Costa Rica was green, I would have left pretty quickly. It begs the question: If you take your family silver so seriously here, you can’t just lump it together in bits of national park. People will stop coming.

And for the future of Costa Rica?

If it goes on like it is, it will be no different than anywhere else in the world, where they’ve allowed tourism to take over for economic reasons. And the local communities are the big losers, People come in, make their money, build their hotels and condos, then they’re gone, on to the next place. What is Costa Rica left with? The same thing as other places. There are also a lot of reasons for hope, too. I met a lot of people that love the country and don’t want to see it ruined.


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