Empowering Today’s Young People to Create the Future We Want to See Tomorrow: A Q&A with Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica
Empowering Today’s Young People to Create the Future We Want to See Tomorrow: A Q&A with Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica

Empowering Today’s Young People to Create the Future We Want to See Tomorrow: A Q&A with Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica

Women Deliver Young Leader and Country Operations Manager at Raleigh International Nepal, an International Sustainable Development Organization, Jyotir Nisha and the 48th President of Costa Rica, H.E. Carlos Alvarado Quesada discuss the links between climate change and gender equality, reinforcing the need to position young people, particularly girls and women, at the heart of decision making to power progress for all.

To address the world’s greatest challenges ꟷ including climate change ꟷ world leaders and young people must come together to create sustainable solutions. In this Q&A, Women Deliver Young Leader Jyotir Nisha and H.E. Carlos Alvarado Quesada, President of Costa Rica, discuss what it means to mobilize everyone, everywhere to overcome gender inequality and win the race against climate change.

Jyotir Nisha: At the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 25) in Madrid in December, world leaders recognized the urgent need to design policy to fight climate change in order to create a better future for today’s youth. What is one action that you would encourage leaders to take in order to move beyond business-as-usual once and for all?

H.E. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada: Public policies are the backbone of deep and transformative change for our societies. Costa Rica has a record of unconventional decisions which have been fundamental to improve wellbeing. In 1948, we abolished the army in order to invest in health and education. Seventy years later, we launched the National Decarbonization Plan: a long-term instrument that plans our transition to a modern, green, resilient, and inclusive economy in which Costa Rica will no longer depend on fossil fuels for our development. I encourage leaders to think out of the box and out of the comfort zone, through innovative and unconventional decision-making, to address challenges like climate change, biodiversity loss, the fourth industrial revolution, and inequality. These are intertwined factors that can hinder development if unattended but, if tackled, they could potentially accelerate progress and wellbeing for all.

And, of course, this is a task that young leaders are able to handle and produce the timely answers that are necessary.

Jyotir Nisha: Part of my experience in the nonprofit sector working for environmental issues includes training girls and women in strategies for up-cycling plastic waste materials to produce handmade goods for market. This has helped them contribute to their family income and feel more empowered in their community. How can governments and the private sector use international fora as a platform to generate greater investment in girls and women, and young people generally, so their solutions to climate change are scaled?

H.E. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada: Women around the world, in particular young women, have already demonstrated that they are leading the way on mitigating and adapting to climate change: from cooperative seed banks, to early warning networks, from solar engineers to women politicians carving a path of sustainable policymaking. They are at the forefront of forest conservation, sustainable use of resources, and community enhancement, and restoration of landscapes and forest ecosystems. However, this critical role is often underestimated, unrecognized, and unpaid.

Women and girls with access to technology have already begun developing innovative tools to reduce emissions by targeting sustainable consumption and production practices, including food waste, community waste management, energy efficiency, and sustainable fashion.

Solutions for climate action exist, but it takes a whole-of-society approach for collaboration and cooperation on a bigger and enhanced scale. We need to reshuffle the way investments are currently working in order to create a flow of finance that reaches communities, including women and youth, provides a stable source of funding for businesses and services that contribute to the solution of social or environmental challenges, and promotes partnerships between traditional sources of finance, like international cooperation and development banks, and new partners, like philanthropy, hedge funds, or pension funds, which are becoming more and more interested in investing in sustainable development projects. And what better than young people giving the thrust that all this requires?

Jyotir Nisha: As someone who is passionate about engaging youth in environmental conservation efforts and having been a part of a team that mobilized over 40,000 people on an Annual Nationwide Clean-up Day in my home country of Nepal, I was glad to see a massive mobilization of young people at the inaugural Climate Summit in September 2019 — both on the streets and in the halls of power. Building on this momentum, what would be your one recommendation to young people to hold decision makers like yourself accountable (to the Paris Agreement, the SDGs, and policies there beyond)?

H.E. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada: In the last months we have witnessed the irruption of massive mobilizations in different parts of the world, lead mostly by young people. This would seem surprising for a generation that has been accused several times of passivity, indifference, and individualism. These mobilizations show, nevertheless, that this is far from truth, and that youth are not only aware of the challenges of their generation and future, but also that they are demanding more and better responses from their rulers and institutions. I truly believe that, as long as these demands are channeled through democratic and pacifist means, they are extremely important to set a bar and a standard of responsibility for us, decision-makers — who are, by the way, more and more often, young people.

We owe them accounts of what we do and of the decisions we make or not, and therefore we must respect the right of youth to express themselves and demand concrete and effective actions. But we must also have the wisdom to pay attention to these demands, and take into account their opinions and proposals to reach agreements that have the legitimacy of consensus-building.

Jyotir Nisha: A fundamental element of the Deliver for Good campaign is working across sectors, issues, and generations. At COP25, and at the recent World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (Davos), we learned that while businesses are thriving, climate change continues to threaten progress made toward gender equality across every measure of development. What is one recommendation that you would give to other world leaders to ensure that girls and women — who not only bear the greatest impact of climate change but are also fundamental leaders in response — remain at the center of our collective global efforts?

H.E. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada: What was before once understood as climate change became a climate crisis, and has now ended in a climate catastrophe, as the United Nations Secretary-General has recently affirmed. This catastrophe demands that policymakers and practitioners renew commitments to sustainable development — at the heart of which is, and must continue to be, advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and realizing women’s rights as a pre-requisite for sustainable development.

Costa Rica has been recognized internationally on two major areas: the respect of human rights and environmental protection. The present Administration has taken these objectives a step further by paying particular attention to women’s rights, inclusion, and diversity, and including them as part of our core policy principles and our everyday practices.

As part of our national commitments to the implementation of the Paris Agreement, Costa Rica recently completed the development of a Gender Action Plan, whose ultimate goal is to ensure sufficient resources, support, and follow-up to empower women and to implement participatory activities with positive impacts on climate mitigation and adaptation. We expect to increase women’s integration into productive processes and achieve women’s economic empowerment through specific policies linked to our long-term development strategy — the Decarbonization Plan — allowing the transformational changes our society needs.

Jyotir Nisha: I am part of a committed and passionate global network of 700 Women Deliver Young Leaders and Alumni who work on gender equality and advocate more broadly for the meaningful engagement of young people in the programs and policies that affect our lives. I am also the only member of the senior management team for a nonprofit in Nepal who is under the age of 30 and has a role in strategic planning and decision-making. I believe young people need to be in positions of power to make things change. How can we make sure that young people who are going to inherit the next decade’s environmental challenges are heard by world leaders in the future? What can world leaders and governments do today to ensure young people have a seat at the decision-making table?

H.E. President Carlos Alvarado Quesada: Although I consider myself as still being part of the youth (I turned 40 last week), I believe that young people in their diversity need to be more and more part of decision-making, and, as a matter of fact, they will be. What is most important is that, once in those positions, they keep thinking unconventionally and out of the box. The challenges we are facing today are unprecedented precisely because previous generations did not have to face situations such as biodiversity loss, global warming, or the emergence of artificial intelligence and technology. Thus, we need new answers and solutions from Twenty-First Century people, and those should and will be put forward by the youth. My advice to world leaders is to have the humility to listen to the people and to allow a more inclusive and participatory decision-making. And to the young people, I can only encourage them to own their future, and to act accordingly, with vision, courage, and determination.