What is the greenest country on Earth?
Climate change is a global issue, and all countries need to contribute to dealing with it.
However, not all countries are equally committed climate change issues, and neither are they all equally positioned to dedicate resources to this cause.
The question of which country can act as a role model is worth exploring. Discovering how and why they contribute helps us learn from them. But due to different climates, financial contexts and more, not all of the lessons will be applicable to every country.
First, “What does it mean to be a green country?”
How to judge the greenest country?
To be “green” means working towards an environmentally sustainable future.
The biggest threat to a sustainable future is climate change, and the most significant contributor to climate change is carbon emissions. This is why it is so common to talk about the total carbon emissions of a country.
However, this doesn’t give a full picture. Larger and more developed countries naturally emit more carbon, but they also have the power to make positive changes that help preserve the environment.
Such countries might have more industry and more net emissions but have superior environmental policies overall, and they deserve to be recognised.
Therefore, we need to consider a range of factors when it comes to judging which is the greenest country:
- Transport policies
- Recycling policies
- Future of power generation plans
- Commitment to reduce emissions. How much do they intend to reduce emissions, and how quickly? Is it a reasonable goal? For example, some countries are looking to achieve “net-zero”.
- Research and development into sustainable living and sustainable energy
- Social sustainability
- The culture of the population
- Loss of biodiversity
When it comes to the quality of the environment if you only talk about carbon emissions, you’ll miss many aspects:
- Air quality
- Water quality
- Waste management
- Presence of toxic heavy metals (e.g., lead) in the environment
Being green means many things, including combating climate change and loss of biodiversity, improving air and water quality, and many others.
Depending on what factors you are looking at, and how you weigh those factors, different countries would be declared the greenest.
There is no perfect answer.
However, there are logical arguments: which factors are the most important and how to measure them? Based on that, indexes that rank countries performance worldwide can be created. The EPI is one of these.
The Environmental Performance Index
One index for judging the “greenness” of a country is the EPI, or Environmental Performance Index, published by Yale researchers biannually since 2006.
The EPI ranks countries using 32 performance indicators. Some of them are major issues you will be familiar with, such as Co2 emissions. Other problems are less publicised but are still important, like how the country deals with lead or trawling on the seabed.
The most recent report was made in 2020. Developed “western” countries in western Europe, North America, Australasia tended to perform the best, with Japan being the only Asian country in the top 15. Eastern European countries also performed well, whereas sub-Saharan African countries scored lowest.
The EPI explains the results in its summary document: “First, good policy results are associated with wealth (GDP per capita), meaning that economic prosperity makes it possible for nations to invest in policies and programs that lead to desirable outcomes.”
A country’s wealth directly impacts what actions they can take and what policies they can put in place to protect the environment.
According to the EPI, which country is the greenest?
Denmark has exceptional scores for several of the performance indicators, including the top or shared top score for:
- Household solids fuels
- Lead management
- Marine protected areas
- Species protection index
- CO2 growth rate *
- CH4 growth rate *
- F-gas growth rate *
- Black Carbon growth rate *
- SO2 growth rate *
- NOx growth rate *
- Wastewater treatment
* Contributor to climate change. Lower is better
Denmark is not the only country that performed exceptionally well across so many performance indicators. Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France all had similar scores.
What sets these countries apart is that they have robust, targeted and wide-ranging policies that effectively address environmental problems.
Denmark seems to accept no compromise when it comes to preventing harm to public health. As such, protections around environmental health and waste management are among the best in the world.
Adding this to a zealous effort to the reduce carbon output of its energy sector, Denmark has managed to outperform all other countries according to the EPI metrics.
However, as the full EPI report states: “We note, however, that every country – including those at the top of the EPI rankings – still has issues to improve upon. No country can claim to be on a fully sustainable trajectory.”
Where does the UK rank?
Sterling TT works internationally but is a UK-based company, so we were interested to know how the UK compares in the EPI.
The UK can be considered a reasonably green country, sitting near the top of the list with a global rank of 4 in 2020. It ranks among the top for sanitation and for protecting marine biodiversity.
However, when it comes to protecting terrestrial biodiversity, the UK does not perform so well: we have some of the worst habitat loss across the globe. A recent parliamentary report suggested 15% of species within the UK are threatened with extinction: Biodiversity in the UK: bloom or bust?
So the UK, Denmark and the rest of the world still have a lot of work.
The critical thing to remember about fighting climate change is that we all have to take responsibility. Countries, individuals, and companies can all take actions that reduce their negative impact on the environment.
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