Green Future Index - Ranking Countries on Commitment to Low Carbon Future

The globe’s climate is kind of a big deal. After all, we all live in it. As such it’s interesting to look at how different countries are doing when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and exploring renewable energy sources. One might naturally think that the wealthier nations are doing a better job being that they have more money to spend on – well – everything. However, as with a great many things in life, things are not always as you would think.

According to a recent paper from the MIT Tech Review, the wealthier countries are not exactly stacking up as you might think. In fact, it ranks relatively poor countries like Ukraine and Angola above the economic juggernauts of the United States and China. Tiny little Iceland is actually ranked number one. Now before we get into how that is happening and why some might be ranked where they are, let's take a quick look at the criteria MIT was using. 

The paper’s authors looked at a number of factors:

Carbon emissions – Fewer emissions get you a better ranking as does a net decrease in emissions compared to the previous year. 

Energy transition – How many renewable sources are getting built to replace older, fossil fuel power plants?

Green society – This one is a grab bag, including things like how much forest a country has, how many energy-efficient buildings, and a host of other things. 

Clean innovation – Where are the hot spots for developing new, green-friendly technology?

Climate policy – Basically, is the government encouraging the development of new technologies and methods for a more sustainable world?

As a matter of purely objective measures, this isn’t bad, though there is plenty of room for subjectivity to enter in and it is unclear how certain subcategories are weighed.

Those criticisms aside, the list is still pretty good and allows for a decent snapshot. So, let’s take a look at Iceland and why they might be ranked number one. Iceland has a lot of unique features that make it particularly well situated to do well with any sort of green ranking system. One is the fact it is a small island. There isn’t a ton of cattle farming that can go on there and as such it’s a nation that has always relied heavily on fishing. That means one part of the green society aspect is going to be well covered. While being very far north, being surrounded by ocean as well as having a large amount of volcanic activity means Iceland is surprisingly temperate given its latitude. That means there is less energy that has to get used for heating and cooling than in Ecuador. They also have made intelligent use of some of their natural resources, making use of all that volcanic energy in the form of geothermal heating. The government there has also shown a willingness to encourage experimentation. In particular, they are pursuing the development of a hydrogen economy that if successful will help Iceland reach carbon neutrality. 

It’s also worth noting that Iceland’s small size means that there are not a number of different cultures within its borders, meaning there are not vast numbers of different mindsets and interests to deal with. A country as large as the United States has multiple cultures that have to be kept at peace. Forcing anything in terms of policy risks causing upheaval no matter what the policy changes might be. Combine that with the expense of new construction, difficulty of labyrinthine regulations, and vast amounts of preexisting infrastructure it is not hard to understand America’s relatively low ranking. 

That said, the US has done a good job of reducing overall emissions in recent years and has at least potential for moving up quickly, given the vast open land that could be reforested and the advances in solar and carbon capture technology that could help a lot in the energy transition sector and further reduce emissions. Hopefully, this potential will be better realized in the near future.

So, what can you do? If you have thoughts on the importance of climate stability, or experience working in a relevant field, then you can put that information in a data packet on TARTLE and share it with those looking for data like yours to help everyone build a better future. 

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