Lessons from the Ecolaboratory: Costa Rica and the Future of Conservation.
Costa Rica has long been considered an important testing ground for innovative environmental policies. Over the past thirty years, environmental governance in the country has become increasingly neoliberal following the country’s implication in the 1980s debt crisis, expressed in a focus on harnessing the economic value of “natural capital” through market mechanisms such ecotourism and payment for environmental services. My long-term research suggests, however, that market mechanisms have generally failed to achieve significant results in the country, while the state-centered command-and-control strategies markets were intended to replace are in fact responsible for much of the conservation success for which Costa Rica is widely celebrated. In emphasizing economic growth, paradoxically, market mechanisms often force into opposition the very conservation and development priorities they intend to reconcile, compelling the state to intervene to preserve natural resources threatened by this dynamic. This analysis has important implications for the future of a global conservation movement that has become increasingly reliant on neoliberal mechanisms in recent years, a trend that promises only to intensify via current promotion of the “Green Economy” as a response to the widespread failure of the sustainable development movement.
Robert Fletcher is Associate Professor in the Department of Environment and Development at the University for Peace in Costa Rica. He is the author of Romancing the Wild: Cultural Dimensions of Ecotourism and co-editor of NatureTM Inc.: Environmental Conservation in the Neoliberal Age.