Cleanest Countries on Earth : A Global Review

Key Points:

  1. Spain and Finland aim for carbon neutrality by 2050 and 2035, respectively.
  2. Iceland and Sweden lead in renewable energy consumption.
  3. Luxembourg and Denmark implement progressive climate policies.
  4. France hosts the pivotal Paris Agreement and is accelerating its green initiatives.
  5. Switzerland ranks as the world's most environmentally friendly nation.


Spain's Sustainable Aspirations


Photos by PxHere

Spain, once hailed as the 12th cleanest nation by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in 2018, is making strides toward an even cleaner future. Spain wants to be very good at protecting the environment by 2050. They want to use more energy sources that won't run out and are planning to spend a lot of money on projects that keep the Earth healthy. They are also thinking about using special agreements to motivate businesses to help. Some cities, like Barcelona, are making it easier for people to walk around and are trying to be very friendly to the environment.

In 2022, Spain updated its nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, setting more ambitious emission reduction targets across all sectors of the economy. Key focus areas include deploying an additional 39-59GW of renewables capacity by 2030, promoting energy efficiency especially in buildings and industry, boosting zero-emission vehicles, and enhancing carbon sinks through reforestation efforts.

To help with the change, Spain has put in place a lot of rules and changes. These include a Climate Change and Energy Transition Bill enacted in 2021, a Just Transition Strategy to manage social impacts, as well as significant investments in sustainable infrastructure through the EU Recovery Funds. Spain also aims to become a benchmark in areas like green hydrogen and looks to tap opportunities around the circular economy.Spain's Sustainable Aspirations

Iceland: The Pioneering Paradigm


Iceland, recognized for its nearly 100% renewable energy consumption, has set an ambitious target to become carbon neutral by 2040. Geothermal energy, harnessed from its volcanic activity, and hydropower from its abundant glaciers, propel this small nation towards sustainability. But people who care about the environment say that we need to fix and bring back wetlands to make up for the pollution we caused before.

Iceland was one of the first countries to recognize climate change as a policy priority. Today, Iceland generates 100% of its electricity from renewables and over 85% of its total energy consumption is carbon-free. Iceland wants to use a special technology to help reduce the pollution caused by things like airplanes, fishing, and farming. The goal is to make these activities produce less greenhouse gases, which are harmful to the environment.
But Iceland has a problem because they make a lot of aluminum and a lot of people visit as tourists. This is not good for the environment. They need to make stricter rules to protect the environment, fix places that have been damaged, and people need to change the way they live to help stop climate change in the next 20 years.

Finland's Environmental Consciousness


Finland stands out for its air quality, adjudged the cleanest globally in a 2018 WHO study. Responding to overwhelming public concern, Finland aims for carbon neutrality by 2035. The country is poised to intensify its climate actions, propelled by a resounding 80% of citizens demanding immediate measures against climate change.

Buoyed by strong public support, Finland recently announced even more ambitious plans to achieve climate neutrality by 2030 - five years ahead of its previous target. They have important rules and plans to make sure use more clean and renewable energy, use less energy overall, make nature healthier by planting more trees, and use a special kind of clean energy called green hydrogen.

As host of the World Circular Economy Forum in 2021, Finland also spotlights circular economy measures to curb waste, enhance recycling and promote sustainable production and consumption. But it's still difficult to keep jobs and make things grow while finland try to be more sustainable.

Ireland's Green Dilemma


Ireland, synonymous with verdant landscapes, confronts challenges in maintaining its environmental accolades. Despite a commendable natural environment, Ireland grapples with issues like peatland degradation, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve its 2050 decarbonization goal, Ireland must reverse its current environmental trends.

Ireland enshrined its 2050 net zero commitment into law through the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2021. Key plans include ramping up renewables like offshore wind to meet up to 80% of electricity demand by 2030, boosting electrification in transport, retrofitting buildings, enhancing carbon sinks and leveraging sustainable solutions like green hydrogen.

However, Ireland continues to face headwinds around reducing agriculture and land-use emissions which comprise over a third of its carbon footprint. Intensive lobbying by farmer groups have diluted aspirations for agriculture sector reforms so far. Tackling politically sensitive climate issues will be key tobend Ireland’s emission curve in line with its long term goals.

Austria's Environmental Zeal


Austria's proactive environmental policies have earned it commendable rankings on the EPI index. Austria is really good at taking care of the environment. They have strict rules about pollution and they recycle a lot of their waste. But they still have a big problem with their forests getting damaged, so they need to fix it right away.
Austria has set really big goals to help the environment in Europe. They want to make sure that they don't produce any more harmful gases than they can clean up by the year 2040. Central policies include expanding renewable energy to meet 100% of electricity demand by 2030, boosting energy efficiency especially in building heating, raising fossil fuel taxes and investing heavily in sustainable rail infrastructure.

However, Austria’s goals could be constrained due to its reliance on coal and gas imports from Russia. The search for alternative suppliers coupled with elevated energy costs for Austrian households and businesses may emerge as pivotal sociopolitical issues over the next few years. The things that Austria does to solve problems will decide if they become a leader in taking care of the environment and staying strong in the future.

Luxembourg's Environmental Revolution


Luxembourg, a diminutive nation, has escalated its environmental ranking by implementing progressive climate policies. The people in charge of Luxembourg are doing things to make the air cleaner and make it easier for cars and people to move around. They are making people pay more money if they pollute the environment, and they are also letting people ride the bus or train for free. This means that Luxembourg wants to make the world better and less poluted place for everyone in the future.

A champion of climate finance, Luxembourg has pledged over €200 million towards vulnerable countries battling climate change impacts. Domestically, Luxembourg is boosting policy momentum through initiatives like interest-free loans for energy efficient home improvements, expanding electric vehicle charging infrastructure to achieve 100% electric vehicles by 2030 and harnessing hydrogen to decarbonize steel production.

However, Luxembourg has among the highest per capita carbon footprints globally, underpinned by its rising population and economic prosperity. Curbing individual consumption levels through behavioral change campaigns will be vital to bend Luxembourg’s emissions curve further.

The United Kingdom's Environmental Renaissance


The United Kingdom, known for its historical industrialization, has undergone a remarkable transformation towards sustainability. With endeavors like a coal-free week and aspirations to ban new gas and diesel vehicles by 2040, the UK is steadfast in its journey towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

The UK was also among the first globally to enact a net zero emissions law in 2019. Flagship plans include expanding offshore wind to cover half of electricity needs by 2030, installing 600,000 heat pump systems annually this decade, creating carbon sinks by restoring peatlands and wetlands, and tapping green finance flows.

However, recent policy shifts like promoting North Sea oil and gas production to improve energy security in the wake of the Ukraine crisis could impede decarbonization plans. Balancing green ambitions with energy stability concerns will require dexterous policy maneuvering going forward.

Sweden: A Beacon of Sustainability


Sweden has exceeded expectations in achieving its climate goals, attaining its 2030 targets a full 12 years ahead of schedule. With over half its energy deriving from renewables, Sweden aims for a fossil fuel-free future by 2040, reinforcing its position as an environmental vanguard.

Already a leader in sustainability, Sweden has stepped up its climate activism further after recent election wins by the Green Party. The new plans want to make companies that pollute a lot pay more money. They also want to stop making cars that use fossil fuels by the year 2030. They want to find new ways to make things like steel and cement without causing pollution. They want to fix places in nature that have been hurt. And they want to give more money to help other countries fight climate change.
But there are still things that need to be figured out to keep Sweden's economy strong, make sure that people who don't have a lot of money are not negatively affected, and get everyone's support for Sweden's really environmentally friendly goals. This need more careful planning and decision-making.

Malta's Green Progress


Malta's rise to the fourth spot on the EPI rankings reflects its burgeoning green initiatives. However, there are some problems like too many people and not enough recycling that mean we need to do something right away to keep the environment healthy.

Malta is directing EU recovery funds to catalyze its green transition plans including installing solar power and battery storage systems, setting up a national sea forest initiative to boost carbon sinks, expanding cycling infrastructure to curb transport emissions, and creating new marine protected areas.

But there are still worries about not having enough land for big renewable energy projects. Malta also needs to work hard to save its scarce water because there is less rain every year, which is made worse by climate change. Adopting desalination plants powered by renewables could emerge as a potential solution.

Denmark: The Wind Power Titan


Denmark, a frontrunner in wind energy, once generated 140% of its electricity needs from wind power in a single day. With plans to source 84% of its energy from wind by 2035, Denmark exemplifies the feasibility of renewable energy on a national scale.

Denmark wants to use more wind power and electricity to make cars go. They also want to use clean fuels for things like planes, ships, and factories. Denmark wants to help other countries do the same thing so that we can all protect the Earth faster.

However, further reducing Danish emissions remains complex due to intensive livestock rearing generating excess manure beyond domestic biogas production capacity. Coupled with its gas dependence on Russia, Denmark needs to bolster alternative clean energy supplies to completely eliminate fossil fuel usage going forward.

France: The Green Epicenter


France, host to the Paris Agreement, exemplifies global environmental leadership. With initiatives to expand its renewables capacity and ban new fossil fuel vehicles by 2040, France is unequivocally committed to a sustainable future.

In line with EU proposals, France recently announced more radical plans targeting carbon neutrality by 2050. France wants to use more renewable energy instead of nuclear power, make more electric cars to create jobs, make buildings better at keeping in heat to save money, and make changes to farming to reduce pollution.
However, people in France are getting upset because their energy bills are increasing, and it's affecting the people who don't have as much money the most.Advancing a "just transition" agenda and protecting vulnerable communities through targeted relief policies will be pivotal for France to equitably transition towards sustainability.

Switzerland: The Apex of Environmentalism


Switzerland, ranked as the world's most environmentally friendly country, boasts stringent climate laws and innovative green technologies. Switzerland is really good at taking care of the environment. They serve as a good model for sustainability.

Already a sustainability torchbearer globally, Switzerland has implemented additional policies like carbon taxes on flight tickets, incentives for climate friendly farming techniques that reduce methane, and stringent vehicle CO2 regulations to expedite its net zero pursuit.

But, the environment groups are saying that Switzerland needs to make bigger changes to protect the climate, because they are not doing as much as other countries in the European Union. A key concern is the outsized emissions contribution of Switzerland’s large financial sector through its global investments portfolio. Aligning future banking practices to ethical environmental standards will bolster Switzerland’s climate activism leadership credentials.

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