Can nature boost a country's economy?

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1. Introduction

We have never been more aware of people’s impact on the planet. Rapid urbanisation is increasing the world’s carbon emissions and there is a growing global imperative to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

Many countries are turning to renewable sources to diversify their energy supply, but which nations have made green energy work for social, economic and environmental prosperity, and is it really sustainable?

This guide is produced in conjunction with My Perfect Country, for the BBC World Service, presented by broadcaster Fi Glover, entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox and Henrietta Moore, director of UCL Institute for Global Prosperity.

2. Countries profiting from nature's resources

Click on the labels to see how these countries have harnessed green energy

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3. Costa Rica: Green trailblazer

75 days carbon-free

In 2015, Costa Rica caught international attention for generating electricity for 75 days without using fossil fuels. Renewables then generated 99% of Costa Rica's electricity for the rest of the year.

Sustainable agriculture

In 2015, Costa Rica announced plans to make 25,000 hectares of coffee plantations carbon efficient. These coffee plantations will reforest unused areas of farmland and reduce dependence on chemical fertilisers. Coffee accounts for 1.4% of the country’s profit-making exports.

Rain and climate change

Costa Rica relies heavily on one source of renewable energy - hydropower. Heavy rain has meant that the country’s hydroelectric dams have recently been full to bursting, and have been able to generate huge amounts of energy.

But in late 2014 a severe drought meant Costa Rica’s utility companies had to fall back on fossil fuels. The country's vehicle emissions also created 70% of the country’s entire CO2 emissions in 2014. Because of this, critics have questioned whether Costa's Rica's zero-carbon model is sustainable.

4. Forward thinking

What can Costa Rica's approach tell other countries about how nature and the economy can work together? Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at UCL, London, tells us more.

5. Green credentials

We may know more and more about climate change, but do you know whether the following statements are true or false?

Solar energy

A day's sunlight could fulfill the world's energy needs for a year


You selected solar energy

No, only an hour's worth of sunlight shining on the earth - if it could be harnessed - would fulfill the world's energy demands for a year.


Water is the largest single source of renewable energy


You selected hydropower

Yes, hydropower - energy generated by water falling from a height - is the largest contributor to renewable energy, according to Guinness World Records.

Green genius

Albert Einstein helped invent solar panels


You selected green genius

Yes, Einstein was awarded a Nobel Prize for his discovery of photoelectric effect in 1921, which we have to to thank for solar panels