Deputy Executive Secretary of UNCCD and former Minister of Environment of Costa Rica
Say ‘Costa Rica’ and the image of a water-dripping green haven might spring to mind. While cloud forests and moss-covered trees continue to be features of the country, lesser-known Costa Rican landscapes are part of the Central American Dry Corridor, which is hard-hit by climate change. There, droughts and desertification are degrading the land and affecting livestock and agriculture.
“If we want to make progress, tackle the climate crisis, and halt the loss of biodiversity, we need an extremely robust strategy for preserving our soil,” said then Environment and Energy Minister, Andrea Meza Murillo, during the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD)’s 2021 Desertification and Drought Day. Less than a year later, she was appointed as UNCCD’s deputy executive secretary, where she continues to rally global ambition to restore degraded lands.
Meza is a lawyer and expert in sustainable development who draws inspiration from environmental defenders in Latin America, the world’s most dangerous region for nature and land activists. She has experience in more than 15 countries––and a drive for making things happen.
As Costa Rica’s Director for Climate Change, she led the launch of one of the world’s first detailed national decarbonization plans, which ranks among the proudest moments of her career. The other was bringing together like-minded individuals to lay the foundations for the country’s green development model. That, she says, felt like being part of a dream team in a World Cup.
Along the way, Meza developed her own brand of leadership. Leaders are often portrayed as competitive, hierarchical superheroes who can single-handedly solve any problem that is thrown at them. “My style is based on collaboration, inclusion, empathy and systems thinking,” she says. She’s shown it is possible to deliver to high standards with a more human, holistic approach. In fact, she says, women tend to overdeliver.
Occasionally, she has had her leadership questioned on account of her gender. “In those situations, I am patient and kind, but I am also firm, authentic, and coherent with my vision and values,” she says.