In 2007 The Living Planet Report from the World Wildlife Fund identified Cuba as the most sustainable country in the world. The study involved two key parameters for measuring sustainable development, a commitment to “improving the quality of human life while living within the carrying capacity of supporting ecosystems”. Cuba was the only country on earth to achieve satisfactory benchmarks in both criteria for sustainable development.
As a world leader in ecologically sustainable practices, Cuba was one of the first countries to begin the large-scale transition from conventional farming, which is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, to the new agricultural paradigm known as low-input sustainable agriculture. In Cuba there are now thriving urban organic farms all around the cities. Organic Farming in Cuba provide about 80% of the fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and medicinal plants consumed by urban residents. They are now being complemented by “green belts” on the urban fringes aimed at local self-sufficiency and ecological sustainability. These organic farms help strengthen local communities and employ hundreds of thousands of people thanks to government support.
Cuba’s agriculture is now 95% organic, with the city of Havana producing over 60% of its own fruits and vegetables within the city’s urban spaces. At the same time, Cuba has been engaging in a massive reforestation campaign, and has invested massively in alternative energy production, with a focus on solar and biofuels. Cuba was also the first country to replace all incandescent light globes with energy-saving compact fluorescents and to ban the sale of incandescents.
Between 1992 and 1998, the National Assembly of People’s Power amended the Cuban constitution to entrench the concept of sustainable development; the National Environment and Development Program was developed (outlining the path Cuba would take to fulfil its obligations under the Rio summit’s Agenda 21); CITMA was established; an overarching environment law passed; and a national environment strategy was launched.
Other major initiatives included a national strategy for environmental education; a national program of environment and development; projects for food production via sustainable methods and biotechnological and sustainable animal food, as well as a national scientific technical program for mountain zones and a national energy sources development program. Each of these program are composed of smaller projects and initiatives, involving local communities, People’s Power bodies, universities, schools and mass organisations.
Bicycles have also been promoted as a sustainable transport mode in Cuba. Government officials have worked to make the streets safer for cyclists by adding bike lanes and offering a bus to take cyclists to and from the center of downtown so that they don’t have to ride along cars and trucks on busy roads.
Cuba demonstrates and makes it possible to imagine future radical possibilities that can be used to analyze and challenge the unsustainable paradigm that presently dominates the world. Cuba is a “real world” socialist country that since the 1990s has had a fundamentally different relationship with the environment than capitalist and past “socialist” countries.
The United States has maintained an economic blockade of Cuba, and thus severely restricted Cuban trade, since the Cuban revolutionary forces successfully ousted Dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and turned the country away from capitalism. This blockade, while economically devastating for Cuba, has had both a negative and positive impact on Cuba’s environmental sustainability. As a result of the blockade Cuba’s economy was heavily dependent on trade with the Soviet Union and the Soviet led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) until they began to collapse in 1989. Prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba followed its model of centralized industrialization and was following the same unsustainable path as both capitalist countries and the bloc led by the Soviet Union. For example, during this time period Cuba had the most industrialized agricultural sector in Latin America, characterized by all-encompassing mechanization and monocropping. However, industrialization was dependent on the trade which began to disappear in 1989. Cuba lost crucial access to items such as oil, heavy machinery, machine parts, and pesticides and faced an economic and agricultural crisis.
However, out of this turbulence, the country re-oriented its economy and agriculture and became a world leader in ecological sustainability. Agricultural production rebounded and Cuba posted the best growth rate of any Latin American country in the latter half of the 1990s and into the 2000s. Much of the production rebound was due to the adoption of a range of agrarian decentralization policies beginning in the 1990s that encouraged individual and cooperative forms of production. Inefficient State companies were replaced with thousands of new small urban and suburban farms and millions of hectares of unused State lands were given to workers for small-scale farming. In this new model, decisions concerning resource use and food production strategies were transferred to the local level, while the State supported farmers by distributing needed inputs and services.
More than 75% of Cuba’s total energy supply comes from fossil fuels, including 96% of its electricity supply, with the remaining supply coming from renewable sources-primarily biomass from sugarcane. National programs to increase the supply of renewable energy and to increase energy efficiency have been and continue to be implemented, though dramatic change is not imminent as Cuba lacks investment capital, receives oil relatively cheaply from Venezuela, and may find a large supply of oil in its waters.