Skip to main content

Top 10 greenest countries

From climate change and ocean acidification, to the hole in the ozone layer, modern environmental problems are global in character. This not only means that all the world’s countries must work together to solve them, but also that each country’s contributions set an example to the others.

Several criteria are assessed in these rankings. They include: 

The Human Development Index (HDI) 

Uses mean education level, per capita income and average life expectancy to determine each country’s level of socioeconomic development.

The Happy Planet Index (HPI)

By considering reports of wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality and per capita ecological footprint, this index assesses how effectively each country guarantees all of its citizens’ high quality of life, without harming the planet.

Annual Greenhouse Gas Emissions Per Capita (GGE)

This tool divides the number of metric tons of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane and other greenhouse gases each country emits by that country’s population. In this way, it determines how much each country is contributing to one of the most serious environmental problems of our generation.

New Solar Capacity Installed (NSC) 

This lists how many megawatts of new solar power each country installs per million people. It thus provides a proxy for that country’s investment in renewable energy.

A country that does well on all of these factors is able to give its citizens a high standard of living without placing a burden on the environment. The better we can identify and emulate such countries, the easier it will be for all humanity to achieve swift, sustainable development.

10 | Vietnam

Vietnam

HDI: 0.683 (Medium)

HPI: 40.3 (5th)

GGE: 2.66

NSC: N/A

Despite having the lowest HDI rank on our list, Vietnam has already obtained one of the world’s highest Happy Planet Index rankings. Rather than developing at any cost and then seeking to undo the resulting environmental damage, the country has achieved sustainability at the outset with high investment in renewable energy and anaerobic technology for electricity generation.

9 | Colombia

Colombia

HDI: 0.727 (High)

HPI: 40.7 (3rd)

GGE: 3.75

NSC: N/A

Despite little investment in solar energy, Colombia – one of just a few of the Americas countries to rank – has been able to achieve high development with low greenhouse gas emissions, a feat made possible by its abundant hydroelectric resources which provides 70% of the country’s power. The government has also made massive commitments to the creation of national parks and green spaces. Some building works have replaced steel with bamboo, which has proven just as durable. This has allowed the country to achieve swift economic growth while maintaining a high Happy Planet Index score.

8 | France

France wind farm

HDI: 0.897 (Very High)

HPI: 30.4 (44th)

GGE: 5.49

NSC: 16.44

With low greenhouse gas emissions, high human development and solar energy investments, plus a decent score on the Happy Planet Index, France is at the forefront of modern sustainable development and has the capacity to remain there for the long haul. France scores highly on food recycling initiatives, environmentally-conscious construction and a massive reduction in its use of fossil fuels.

7 | Bulgaria

Bulgaria

HDI: 0.794 (High)

HPI: 20.4 (109th)

GGE: 6.19

NSC: 108.98

The only country in the world to install more new solar capacity than Germany, Bulgaria makes up for its low HPI rank and modest HDI rank with future potential. As fossil fuels become scarcer, and other nations seek sustainable solutions, these investments will likely benefit Bulgaria as much economically as environmentally. Bulgaria has experienced fast-paced development, especially for wind farms and solar energy and, to a lesser extent, for new hydroelectric power plants.

6 | Germany

Germany

HDI: 0.926 (Very High)

HPI: 29.8 (49th)

GGE: 10.43

NSC: 93.52

Germany’s sustainability status may seem less than impressive, given that it has a relatively low HPI rank and high greenhouse gas emissions compared to other countries on this list. However, Germany is dubbed ‘the capital the world’s first major renewable energy economy’, with renewables supplying virtually all of its domestic energy demand, creating a strong foundation for a sustainable future.

5 | Switzerland

Switzerland

HDI: 0.939 (Very High)

HPI: 34.3 (24th)

GGE: 6.18

NSC: 25.23

Switzerland strikes a healthy balance between present and future sustainability and prosperity. The country is currently one of the world’s greenest developed lands, with low greenhouse gas emissions and a promising HPI score. For example, Switzerland forces citizens to pay for garbage collection and its incinerators produce minimal amounts of air pollution. Tap water in Switzerland is up to the same quality as bottled mineral water, although 500 times cheaper, and hotels offer discounts to drivers of hybrid cars. Switzerland’s heavy investment in renewables might afford it a further edge, economically, if it can sell some of that energy to its neighbours.

4 | Uruguay

Uruguay

HDI: 0.795 (High)

HPI: 36.8 (14th)

GGE: 6.90

NSC: N/A

The country has been able to attain a high life expectancy, widespread feelings of wellbeing and steady economic growth while keeping greenhouse gas emissions under control. Renewables provide 94.5 percent of the country’s electricity at prices lower than in the past, relative to inflation with massive investments in wind, solar and biomass technology. In doing so, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without heavy government subsidies or higher consumer costs, allowing it to become one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America.

3 | Spain

Spain

HDI: 0.884 (Very High)

HPI: 36 (15th)

GGE: 5.87

NSC: 5.87

Ranking only slightly below Norway on the Human Development and Happy Planet indices, Spain has the advantage of having invested heavily in renewable energy. This suggests that the country will have an easier time maintaining its low greenhouse gas emissions while still generating all of the energy it needs for economic prosperity. So much so, Spain is aiming to provide 100 percent of its energy needs using only renewable sources by 2020, and energy experts in the country believe it’s a highly achievable target.

2 | Norway

Norway

HDI: 0.949 (Very High)

HPI: 36.8 (12th)

GGE: 4.85

NSC: N/A

Notable for being the world’s most developed country according to the HDI, Norway has not let this high social and economic sophistication come at the environment's expense. Despite not being a major investor in solar power, the country has managed to keep its greenhouse gas emissions very low. Norway adopted a motion in June 2016 to become carbon neutral by 2030, which is 20 years earlier than previous estimates. The government is also considering banning the sale of all petrol-fuelled cars by 2025.

1 | Costa Rica

Costa Rica

HDI: 0.776 (High)

HPI: 44.7 (1st)

GGE: 0.53

NSC: N/A

Ranking first on the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica has managed to keep its greenhouse gas emissions near zero despite being a relatively developed country. Even the country’s low investment in solar is not as big a problem as it seems; Costa Rica has abundant geothermal and hydroelectric resources, making solar energy less important. In the 1990s, the country passed a series of “green culture” laws including the tax-funded National Forests Law that protects forests, waters, biodiversity and natural beauty as both tourist attractions and scientific resources.

Other green initiatives include the Eco-Marchamo, which is a voluntary complementary tax that allows drivers to offset 100 percent of the emissions generated by fuel consumption for one year, and the Carbon Neutral Framework that incentivises good environmental practice by Costa Rican companies.

1 of 10

10 | Vietnam

Vietnam

HDI: 0.683 (Medium)

HPI: 40.3 (5th)

GGE: 2.66

NSC: N/A

Despite having the lowest HDI rank on our list, Vietnam has already obtained one of the world’s highest Happy Planet Index rankings. Rather than developing at any cost and then seeking to undo the resulting environmental damage, the country has achieved sustainability at the outset with high investment in renewable energy and anaerobic technology for electricity generation.

9 | Colombia

Colombia

HDI: 0.727 (High)

HPI: 40.7 (3rd)

GGE: 3.75

NSC: N/A

Despite little investment in solar energy, Colombia – one of just a few of the Americas countries to rank – has been able to achieve high development with low greenhouse gas emissions, a feat made possible by its abundant hydroelectric resources which provides 70% of the country’s power. The government has also made massive commitments to the creation of national parks and green spaces. Some building works have replaced steel with bamboo, which has proven just as durable. This has allowed the country to achieve swift economic growth while maintaining a high Happy Planet Index score.

8 | France

France wind farm

HDI: 0.897 (Very High)

HPI: 30.4 (44th)

GGE: 5.49

NSC: 16.44

With low greenhouse gas emissions, high human development and solar energy investments, plus a decent score on the Happy Planet Index, France is at the forefront of modern sustainable development and has the capacity to remain there for the long haul. France scores highly on food recycling initiatives, environmentally-conscious construction and a massive reduction in its use of fossil fuels.

7 | Bulgaria

Bulgaria

HDI: 0.794 (High)

HPI: 20.4 (109th)

GGE: 6.19

NSC: 108.98

The only country in the world to install more new solar capacity than Germany, Bulgaria makes up for its low HPI rank and modest HDI rank with future potential. As fossil fuels become scarcer, and other nations seek sustainable solutions, these investments will likely benefit Bulgaria as much economically as environmentally. Bulgaria has experienced fast-paced development, especially for wind farms and solar energy and, to a lesser extent, for new hydroelectric power plants.

6 | Germany

Germany

HDI: 0.926 (Very High)

HPI: 29.8 (49th)

GGE: 10.43

NSC: 93.52

Germany’s sustainability status may seem less than impressive, given that it has a relatively low HPI rank and high greenhouse gas emissions compared to other countries on this list. However, Germany is dubbed ‘the capital the world’s first major renewable energy economy’, with renewables supplying virtually all of its domestic energy demand, creating a strong foundation for a sustainable future.

5 | Switzerland

Switzerland

HDI: 0.939 (Very High)

HPI: 34.3 (24th)

GGE: 6.18

NSC: 25.23

Switzerland strikes a healthy balance between present and future sustainability and prosperity. The country is currently one of the world’s greenest developed lands, with low greenhouse gas emissions and a promising HPI score. For example, Switzerland forces citizens to pay for garbage collection and its incinerators produce minimal amounts of air pollution. Tap water in Switzerland is up to the same quality as bottled mineral water, although 500 times cheaper, and hotels offer discounts to drivers of hybrid cars. Switzerland’s heavy investment in renewables might afford it a further edge, economically, if it can sell some of that energy to its neighbours.

4 | Uruguay

Uruguay

HDI: 0.795 (High)

HPI: 36.8 (14th)

GGE: 6.90

NSC: N/A

The country has been able to attain a high life expectancy, widespread feelings of wellbeing and steady economic growth while keeping greenhouse gas emissions under control. Renewables provide 94.5 percent of the country’s electricity at prices lower than in the past, relative to inflation with massive investments in wind, solar and biomass technology. In doing so, Uruguay has slashed its carbon footprint without heavy government subsidies or higher consumer costs, allowing it to become one of the wealthiest countries in Latin America.

3 | Spain

Spain

HDI: 0.884 (Very High)

HPI: 36 (15th)

GGE: 5.87

NSC: 5.87

Ranking only slightly below Norway on the Human Development and Happy Planet indices, Spain has the advantage of having invested heavily in renewable energy. This suggests that the country will have an easier time maintaining its low greenhouse gas emissions while still generating all of the energy it needs for economic prosperity. So much so, Spain is aiming to provide 100 percent of its energy needs using only renewable sources by 2020, and energy experts in the country believe it’s a highly achievable target.

2 | Norway

Norway

HDI: 0.949 (Very High)

HPI: 36.8 (12th)

GGE: 4.85

NSC: N/A

Notable for being the world’s most developed country according to the HDI, Norway has not let this high social and economic sophistication come at the environment's expense. Despite not being a major investor in solar power, the country has managed to keep its greenhouse gas emissions very low. Norway adopted a motion in June 2016 to become carbon neutral by 2030, which is 20 years earlier than previous estimates. The government is also considering banning the sale of all petrol-fuelled cars by 2025.

1 | Costa Rica

Costa Rica

HDI: 0.776 (High)

HPI: 44.7 (1st)

GGE: 0.53

NSC: N/A

Ranking first on the Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica has managed to keep its greenhouse gas emissions near zero despite being a relatively developed country. Even the country’s low investment in solar is not as big a problem as it seems; Costa Rica has abundant geothermal and hydroelectric resources, making solar energy less important. In the 1990s, the country passed a series of “green culture” laws including the tax-funded National Forests Law that protects forests, waters, biodiversity and natural beauty as both tourist attractions and scientific resources.

Other green initiatives include the Eco-Marchamo, which is a voluntary complementary tax that allows drivers to offset 100 percent of the emissions generated by fuel consumption for one year, and the Carbon Neutral Framework that incentivises good environmental practice by Costa Rican companies.

1 of 10

Facebook Conversations

NEWSLETTER

Energy Digital Weekly