“Rare Conversations” with Carlos Alvarado

Leading on Climate Change

May 22, 2023

Carlos Alvarado Quesada likes to lead by example.

During his four-year term in office, the former President of Costa Rica ushered in changes that positioned the small Central American nation as a global climate change leader and one of the first of 190 nations to sign onto the 30×30 pledge.

“When we started the High Ambition Coalition for 30×30, most of the people said this was going to be impossible… but in 2022, it was demonstrated that it was possible,” said President Alvarado.

On May 16, 2023, former Costa Rican President and newly elected Rare Trustee, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, sat down for an hour-long conversation with Rare CEO Brett Jenks as part of the “Rare Conversations” series. Among the wide range of topics President Alvarado and Jenks covered, it was Costa Rica’s role as climate leader that stood out.

“It’s possible to live without an army. It’s possible to live without being wealthy but to have health care. It’s possible to have an electric grid in a developing country that is 99 percent clean and renewable,” said President Alvarado. “Those examples drive ideas for others.”

Despite being only the 129th largest country in the world, Costa Rica holds approximately 6% of the world’s biodiversity. When President Alvarado took office in 2018, he set out to protect as much of the country’s rich biodiversity as possible while implementing and scaling the world’s first decarbonization plan.

“When I started my administration, we had less than three percent of our ocean protected,” said President Alvarado. “By the end of my administration, we had more than 30 percent of our ocean protected.”

And that wasn’t the only milestone the 48th President of Costa Rica achieved during his tenure. By the time President Alvarado’s term ended in 2022, his country’s carbon output had plummeted by 85 percent as a result of Costa Rica’s decarbonization plan – which focuses on abolishing the use of fossil fuels in transportation and industry.

Yet, President Alvarado acknowledges the work still to be done. “Decarbonization as a process and net zero as a goal is not the end objective…it’s only the beginning,” he said. “We need to change how we produce in order to protect the planet, and to have a planet for humanity to live.”

To do that, President Alvarado said there is a need to identify “blind spots” and start addressing them in a multi-dimensional manner: “Through principles, through human rights, through solidarity.” One of those blind spots, he and Jenks agree, is the need to better address the emerging climate migration crisis.

“Migration is not new, but climate change is going to take it to the next level,” said President Alvarado.  Rare’s CEO and the former President were brought together by participating in the Climate Migration Council, a group of visionary leaders from an array of sectors committed to finding solutions to climate migration. During the Rare Conversation, they discussed the changes they see happening already—rising tides, prolonged droughts, and once-in-a-lifetime storms that leave destruction and devastation in their wake.

The call to action, said President Alvarado, rests with the countries most reliant on fossil fuels, which must decarbonize in order to slow the changes to the planet. “In a world as integrated as the one we live in, [being selfless] is not always the case. But to really protect yourself, the ones you love, your country, you have to be selfless.”

Finally, Jenks asked President Alvarado about his hopes for the future, and the impact his conservation and climate migration work will have in the years to come.

“It’s a legacy that’s going to be for my children, for my son and his generation, and hopefully, for the generations to come—but also to tell others and to tell the world, ‘This is possible.’”

Click the video at the top to watch the whole Rare Conversation with President Alvarado.