Sweden-Costa Rica: Same Paths on Climate Change, Different on COVID-19

Two countries that have long coordinated their response to global goals like promotion on democracy, human rights and environmental issues, Sweden and Costa Rica highlight how public policy matters

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS

By René Castro Salazar and Brian Harris
ROME/SANTIAGO, Jun 24 2020 (IPS)

The lack of a coordinated international response had led to
varying results worldwide in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two countries that have long coordinated their response to global
goals like promotion on democracy, human rights and environmental
issues, Sweden and Costa Rica highlight how public policy matters.
While with their similar approaches to climate change the two walk
together, their different approaches to COVID-19 have reaped
disparate results, and death tolls.

Using Gompertz mathematical modelling, we have analysed both
countries’ responses to COVID-19 and found that the human and
economic impact of COVID-19 will be greater in Sweden than in Costa
Rica. Through May, Costa Rican public policies have resulted in
fewer deaths and positive cases (in both absolute and per capita
terms) than the much more economically developed Sweden.

The different results through June 21– Sweden attributing
5,053 deaths to COVID-19 compared to Costa Rica’s 12, according
to John Hopkins University, cannot be attributed to geography,
ethnicity or even Sweden’s slightly older population.

With the impact of COVID-19 estimated at reducing Sweden’s GDP
in 2020 by 9.7 percent and Costa Rica’s by 3.6 percent, attending
to the immediate impact of the virus will be a higher political
priority than the high levels of investment needed for mitigating
climate change over the coming decades

Additionally, Sweden’s economy is much bigger and spends more on
health care than Costa Rica, dedicating 11.1 percent of its larger
GDP to public spending on its health care system compared to Costa
Rica’s 7.3 percent of GDP. In both cases, these countries’
universal public health systems are often cited as exemplary models
in terms of the breadth and quality of services provided to their
populaces, especially in comparison to countries with comparable
levels of development.

The crucial element of distinction between the impact of
COVID-19 in the two countries can mainly be laid at the feet of
their public policies.

Sweden recorded its first COVID-19 case on January 22 and did
not record a second until February 26, when its infection
“curve” began its upward trend that our models indicate will
reach its peak in late July with around 46,000 infections over 190
days. Costa Rica’s first case was detected March 6, but given its
policy response we project its curve began to flatten in mid-April,
just 35 days after the outbreak was detected. Both countries host
large migrant population that appear to be less integrated in to
the health systems and have higher rates of infections than
citizens.

It is also noteworthy that, while Costa Rica’s initial
COVID-19 testing policy was to test patients showing potential
symptoms, Sweden restricted its testing only to patients showing
severe symptoms. Undetected cases not reflected in national data
are likely in both countries, but are not reflected in our
mathematical models. In any case, given how new COVID-19 is, no
universally accepted standard for testing exists.

Despite this, the wide gap in confirmed cases and deaths between
the two countries clearly shows a greater and more prolonged impact
in Sweden.

Although we should be cautious in drawing conclusions, Costa
Rica’s more interventionist response and actions to control the
spread of the pandemic may very well explain the shorter time
period and flatter curve the lesser developed nation has recorded
compared to its highly developed counterpart.

Costa Rica’s COVID-19 response was to take quick action in an
orderly manner, starting with preventative public information
campaigns and the prompt introduction of restrictive measures
including the isolation of patients and the implementation of
social distancing which culminated in a nationwide quarantine that
saw borders and schools closed and movement within the country
highly restricted.

Notoriously, Sweden went for a very different approach
emphasizing individual responsibility by advising citizens to
practice social distancing without restricting movement, only
closing borders to non-Europeans and barring gatherings of more
than 50 people. The architect of Sweden’s COVID-19 policies has
since conceded this response disproportionally affected most
vulnerable people like the elderly.

While the two countries enjoy very different development levels,
both are seen as leaders in their regions in the areas of social
services and health care—both provide their citizenry universal
health coverage with infrastructure available nationwide. And both
follow similar policy goals and approaches to issues facing future
generations, especially with regard to climate change.

Both countries have enthusiastically joined 121 other nations in
a concerted and coordinated strategy to attain so-called “carbon
neutrality” by 2050—in 2019 Costa Rica’s net per capita
emissions were 1.61 tonnes while Sweden’s were 4.03 tonnes; the
United States’ net per capita emissions were 16.5 tonnes. Sweden
has focused its emissions reduction policies on its energy and
transport sectors, while Costa Rica (with its abundant
hydroelectric resources) is focusing on its diesel-dependent
transportation sector.

In both countries, the forestry sector- and its ability to
remove or “sequester” carbon from the atmosphere- plays a
fundamental role in the short- and medium-term efforts. But for
both, the long-term solution lies in energy efficiency by adopting
measures to reduce emissions per kilowatt hour generated and per
kilometres travelled to decrease their use of fossil fuels.

Sweden has focused on emissions reductions in the energy sector,
specifically by reorienting production to so-called renewable
sources including hydroelectric and reducing fossil fuels and
nuclear dependency. By 2030, Sweden’s energy sector aims to
reduce its emissions by 44 percent and its transportation sector by
30 percent from 1990 levels.

With an emphasis on the forestry sector to attain their net
emission goals, both have been implementing parallel
fire-prevention and control policies to avoid the devastation
wrought in other forest-dependent countries of late.

Fires in both Sweden and Costa Rica have occurred with less
frequency and intensity over the last decade as a result, according
to NASA observations. That is no guarantee that fires will not pose
a threat in the future, but with forestry potentially sequestering
37 percent of total emissions in Costa Rica and projected to
capture 18 percent in Sweden, both countries have established
similar fire prevention policies and administrative structures.

In Costa Rica, succeeded in phasing out fossil fuels in its
electricity generation and legal reforms helped push forest cover
from 21 percent of the country’s territory in 1996 to 54 percent
in 2018 and its sequestration needs will fall to 33 percent of
emissions by 2050 or roughly one tonne or carbon per person per
year. Now, the country needs to transform its transportation into a
cleaner and more efficient one.

Sweden and Costa Rica can both attain carbon neutrality by 2050
if political consensus remains unchanged. But with the impact of
COVID-19 estimated at reducing Sweden’s GDP in 2020 by 9.7
percent and Costa Rica’s by 3.6 percent, attending to the
immediate impact of the virus will be a higher political priority
than the high levels of investment needed for mitigating climate
change over the coming decades.

Combatting COVID-19 in the absence of a vaccine, as with
confronting climate change, will require international cohesion.
The wide gap in cases and deaths between Costa Rica and Sweden
tragically highlights that, as well as how real global public
challenges like health and environmental crises need government
interventions.

Doctor Rene Castro graduated from Harvard
University and is currently ADG for FAO on climate change and
biodiversity; he served as a minister in the ministries of foreign
affairs and environment and energy of Costa Rica between
1994-2014.

Brian Harris is a Chilean-American consultant
with extensive experience as a foreign correspondent and in the
global coffee industry as the former president of Chile’s coffee
association ANAPAC

The post
Sweden-Costa Rica: Same Paths on Climate Change, Different on
COVID-19
appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Sweden-Costa Rica: Same Paths on Climate Change, Different
on COVID-19