Earth Day is only a few hours away, and we at Expat.com are making a good cheer. If you want to be an environmentally-friendly expat, the information below about the world's greenest countries may help you find your ultimate destination.
The 'greenest' countries
One of the best overall measure of a country's commitment to the environment is the Environmental Performance Index, produced by Yale. The variables used to rank the world's nations here include both human and environmental impacts, from health impacts (such as air pollution) to ecological impacts (such as fish stocks). This comprehensive analysis covering a variety of environmental impacts provides a list of the 'greenest' countries. Like in other reports, such as world happiness, the Scandinavian nations come out on top, followed by Slovenia, Spain, Portugal, Estonia, Malta and France completing the top 10. Both government policy and natural factors help impact the overall score; for example Iceland (in at number two) benefits from its huge geothermal energy reserves thanks to its volcanic nature, in addition to well-thought out sustainable development policies that ensure environmental issues are a key part of decision making across other areas.
The cost of renewable energy has long been a hurdle, as investors were drawn to the appealing returns of the comparatively cheaper extraction of fossil fuels. However, government subsidies and increased social awareness about climate change has driven the industry forward, with continued innovation across the board, and ever larger solar, wind and hydro developments. Though there is some debate about the impact of these often gargantuan developments, the general consensus is that the continued investment in and development of renewable energy is necessary in order to combat climate change, as the environmental impact is not as great as our current reliance on fossil fuels.
Leading the way in the share of new electricity capacity from renewables is the EU, on an impressive 86%, followed by the US on 61%, China on 52% and India on 44%. Given that these four titans of industry have continued to turn their hand to renewables, it seems promising for the rest of the planet. Costa Rica, for example, famously produced 98% of its electricity without fossil fuels in 2016.
On the overall EPI rankings for 2016, the US was in 26th , China was in 109th, and India came in at 141st. A large number of Eureopean countries made up the top 50. This suggests that although developing economies are placing an increasing focus on renewable energy, more needs doing. Expats looking to be part of the renewable energy revolution may want to consider a European country, safe in the knowledge that their next cup of tea or microwaved meal will most likely be coming from a renewable source.
Taxing carbon emissions is a recent development, and countries that come out on top here are at the upper end of the overall EPI rankings. Sweden, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Denmark make up the top five, closely followed by the UK (which came in 12th in the EPI) and France. This countries had the highest carbon emission taxes, and their overall high ranking suggests this is a key factor in encouraging businesses to consider their carbon footprint during their growth and when making investments. It can sometimes be the case that industrial or business growth is seen to be in direct conflict with environmental protection, but countries like the UK and France are known for their world-leading economies.
This is a major part of sustainability – especially in urban environments. And, while carbon taxes and creating renewable energy are likely out of our hands, recycling is something everyone can participate in to benefit their immediate surroundings and the world as a whole. However, this requires investment into recycling plants, effective management of waste collection by local government and good overall policies in place in national government.
Consequently, it may come as little surprise that Germany took the top spot here, with its reputation for efficiency and cleanliness. Other European countries such as Austria, Slovenia, Belgium, the UK, Italy and France also featured in the top 10 global recycling nations. This may be thanks to the overarching supranational EU policies that have encouraged implementation of recycling policies amongst member states. South Korea was the country with the second highest percentage of recycled waste, Australia came in 7th and the US 10th.
Again, it would seem that Europe (and the EU) seems to be leading the way in waste reduction and recycling, so if you are concerned about waste production and want to move somewhere with an efficient recycling system, a European country will likely be the best to be.