The Green Future Index
The Green Future Index is a ranking of 76 leading countries and territories on their progress and commitment toward building a low carbon future. It measures the degree to which their economies are pivoting toward clean energy, industry, agriculture, and society through investment in renewables, innovation, and green finance.
The overall rankings tab shows the performance of the examined economies relative to each other and aggregates scores generated across the following five pillars: Carbon emissions, Energy transition, Green society, Clean innovation and Climate policy.
This pillar ranks each country according to its CO₂ emission contribution (relative to its economy), as well the recent historical change of total emissions and the change reported in each of three primary productivity drivers—industry, transportation, and agriculture.
This pillar measures each country or territory’s use level of renewable energy as a proportion of overall energy consumption as well as the recent historical rate of change.
This pillar measures the efforts made by society to increase recycling, develop energy-efficient buildings, and consume less meat and dairy, as well as the average net change in natural and planted forestation over the last five years.
This pillar ranks the countries efforts to promote decarbonization through innovation. The indicators include each nation or territory’s relative number of green patents and investment in sustainable food technology, as well as the relative amount of capital each deploys, domestically and across borders, to develop clean energy.
This pillar quantifies and ranks state-level activities and overall policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases. The indicators include: an evaluation of policy action to reach stated climate goals; participation in financial markets for carbon such as bonds and trading; development of sustainable agriculture programs; and a graded assessment of the degree to which pandemic recovery stimulus packages will facilitate a pivot towards decarbonization in sectors such as energy, infrastructure, transportation, and industry.
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."
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."
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."
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.
About the Index
The Green Future Index is a ranking of 76 countries and territories on their progress and commitment toward building a low carbon future. It measures the degree to which their economies are pivoting to clean energy, industry, agriculture, and society through investment in renewables, innovation, and green finance.
The Green Future Index measures the green performance of countries and territories across five pillars, each with a number of indicators:
society Measures recycling, energy-efficient buildings, consumption of meat and dairy, and forestation.
policy Quantifies and ranks state-level activities and overall policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.
The rankings show business leaders, policymakers, and societies whether their country is making the right investments in building a green future and whether it is likely to emerge as a green leader or a laggard in tackling humanity’s greatest challenge—the global climate emergency.
The index is weighted toward trends and future-looking indicators that show whether an economy is moving in the right direction. This recognizes the efforts that more industrialized economies are making to pivot and decarbonize. Smaller, less developed economies are recognized for their commitment to embrace renewable technologies and drive economic development without the previously accompanying environmental footprint.
Climate policy is the most significant pillar in the index methodology. It measures state-level activities and overall policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, as well as the degree to which pandemic recovery stimulus programs will be oriented toward sustainable projects and promoting carbon neutral practices.
This last point is significant, for the green future of every nation will not only be determined by the speed and precision with which each reduces its own carbon footprint, but by the steps it takes to make its economy more robust and resilient through sustainable activity and policy. Just as a biodiverse ecosystem cultivates stability and resilience through a complex network of adaptive species, a green economy is powered by multiple sources of renewable energy, a low-carbon food industry, clean transport and industry, and a flexible, responsive, and innovative society.
MIT Technology Review was founded at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1899. We are a leading voice on climate change issues with a dedicated topic area on our website for the global climate emergency, including innovations that may accelerate decarbonization and national climate policy initiatives. We also published a dedicated climate issue in 2019, which you can access here. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is strongly committed to climate change and in 2015 President Rafael L. Reif released “A Plan for Action on Climate Change”, which included an institute goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 32% by 2030.
MIT Technology Review Insights is the custom publishing division of MIT Technology Review. We conduct qualitative and quantitative research and analysis worldwide and publish a wide variety of content, including articles, reports, infographics, videos, and podcasts.
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