Efforts to combat climate change have been taking shape for more than a decade, but until now many have largely generated “empty words, loopholes, and greenwash,” in the sharp words of climate activist Greta Thunberg. However, 2020 has finally created the momentum and convergence of political, private sector, and social will for a decisive new agenda for tackling arguably humanity’s greatest threat.
One trigger for the new momentum is the tragedy of mounting and endless record-breaking natural disasters caused by global heating. The combined acreage destroyed by wildfires in California, Australia, and the Amazon in this past year alone was the largest ever witnessed, consuming a land area greater than Belarus.
California’s 2018 wildfires cost the US economy $148.5 billion, or 0.7% of the country’s annual GDP, estimate leading academics at universities including University College of London.
Another is the covid-19 pandemic; in stimulating a global economic recovery, governments and businesses have the choice to either “build back better” by channelling innovation and investment toward clean energy, industry, transportation, and food, or to plump for short-term gains and shore up the polluting industries of the past.
“There are only three things that reduce emissions: efficiency and conservation, carbon capture and storage, and shutting things down.”
Senior research scholar
Center on Global Energy Policy
Against this backdrop, MIT Technology Review Insights has developed the Green Future Index, a ranking of 76 leading nations and territories based on their progress and commitment toward building a low carbon future. The 76 economies are ranked within five pillars that combine to form the index. These pillars are Carbon emissions, Energy transition, Green society, Clean innovation, and Climate policy.
Green leaders: The top 20 economies
European countries dominate the top of the Green Future Index, with 15 European nations in the top 20. Many European countries have already made some progress with curbing emissions, transitioning their energy production to renewable sources, and investing in green mobility. The coordinated efforts of EU member states to commit more than €200 billion in bold green economy investments, as part of the European Commission’s sweeping post-covid Recovery and Resilience Facility, will give European nations an additional boost in years ahead.
“When we lose that biodiversity, we lose everything – opportunities for new economic growth and social inclusion – not just the ability to take carbon out of the air.”
Senior researcher in biodiversity
National Institute of Amazonian Research
The uneven progress of many of the world’s largest economies is reflected in the index. The United States sits in 40th place, in part hobbled by a number of years of climate policy misdirection, and China, in 45th place, still has a long way to go in terms of energy transition despite accounting for nearly half of the world’s net additions of renewable energy through wind and solar last year. Between these two economies, however, billions of dollars were spent on innovation in green technology and transitional processes—meaning both should be able to make progress in the rankings in years to come if they are truly committed to their stated (or, in the case of the United States, reclaimed) carbon neutrality objectives.
Ranking of the G20 economies
Note: This list excludes the European Union
“While there is growing global and local civil society pressure for Latin America to pursue decarbonization pathways, several governments are betting on fossil fuel extraction as exports to shore up their balance sheets—not only for the short term, but also to bank them so they can weather future crises.”
Isabel Cavelier Adarve
Co-founder and director of vision
The bottom 15 countries in the index we call “Climate abstainers”, largely due to their inability to create and hold to firm energy transition and policy implementation goals, often against a backdrop of fossil fuel dependency. These include Japan which, despite recently renewed commitments, is ranked 60th—the country is still weighed down by legacy industries and the shadow of Fukushima. Inability to move policy and industrial frameworks beyond existing carbon-intensive economies drag down the scores of our lowest-ranking economies: Russia, Iran, Paraguay, and Qatar.