But as individual citizens, there's a limit to how much we can do. If the world's climate crisis is to be avoided, we need governments to take action as well.
Today, we'll reveal who's doing a good job, and who still needs to improve
The most environmentally friendly countries are measured according to the Environmental Performance Index. This system, developed by Yale University, provides a data driven way to measure how eco friendly a country is, using a range of criteria.
I'll explain more about how the EPI score is calculated later. But to start with, let's look at which countries came out on top, and why.
EPI 82.5, 10 Year Change +7.3
Denmark was named as the most ecofriendly country with an EPI score of 82.5.
The Danish government's agenda puts greenhouse gas reduction as a national priority. They aim to make the country entirely carbon neutral by 2050.
They have improved access to public transport, encouraged the use of electric cars and created new cycle paths, while at the same time investing in renewable energy such as wind and bio-energy systems. As a result, Denmark has managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.
In the city of Aarhus, the Marselisborg Wastewater Treatment Plant is a world leading facility that creates biogas from sewage sludge, and runs with a 50% energy surplus.
Denmark's EPI score was strong in several areas, including climate change, which showed they have the lowest co2 emissions growth rate in the world. Wastewater treatment, pollution emissions, biodiversity, health and ecosystem vitality were other areas in which Denmark excelled.
EPI 82.3, 10 Year Change +11.6
Luxembourg has a high GDP and is experiencing rapid population growth, but despite this they finished a close second in the list of the most eco friendly countries in the world. They also show the most positive 10 Year Change.
The country ranks well for its low pollution emissions, wastewater treatment and water resources. They operate schemes to develop eco-friendly infrastructures, reduce groundwater contamination and establish water protection zones.
EPI 81.5, 10 Year Change +8.6
Switzerland's green economy is at the forefront of their climate and biodiversity goals. It seeks to take a finance driven approach to encourage sustainability, target net zero emissions and protect biodiversity.
As a result, Switzerland has a high EPI score for health, sanitation, species protection and emissions.
The Swiss government has also implemented a Spatial Planning Act, which protects green spaces by placing strict limits and restrictions on urban development and expansion. Their investment in renewable energy is an important component of their move towards net zero.
EPI 81.3, 10 Year Change +9
The United Kingdom is 4th on the list of the most environmentally friendly countries in the world. They are ranked second when it comes to climate change, thanks to a low ch4 and co2 growth rate. The UK is also joint best for sanitation & drinking water, and ranks 4th for ecosystem vitality.
The UK has also made significant steps to help combat plastic pollution.
The first step was to introduce a charge for all plastic carrier bags, which reduced their use by 90%.
In 2021, the United Kingdom government announced a plan to ban single use plastic cutlery. This follows a ban on plastic straws that was introduced in 2020.
EPI 80, 10 Year Change +5.8
France has a less industrialized economy than many other developed countries, which has helped it to reduce its air pollution and co2 emissions. Other initiatives such as hydro turbines and laws to eliminate food waste have also been welcomed.
Climate change, pollution emissions and biodiversity are therefore the areas in which France scores highly, leading to a respectable 5th place in the list of the most environmentally friendly countries.
EPI 79.6, 10 Year Change +5.4
Austria is investing in improving air quality and in waste management schemes, to reduce pollutants and restore the country's natural environment. They have introduced policies to restrict the use of pesticides and protect their trees and forests.
Although there is more work to do, the initiatives to date have made Austria rank as the 6th most eco friendly country in the world at present.
EPI 78.9, 10 Year Change +6
If it's clean air and water you're looking for, then go to Finland They came out top in terms of air quality and joint top in sanitation and drinking water.
Their geographical location and low population density certainly help, but Finland have also invested in renewable energy sources, in particular wind power, and plans to increase its usage of these in future as part of their environmental policy.
EPI 78.7, 10 Year Change +5.3
Sweden ranks joint second for air quality, third for environmental health, joint third for waste management, and joint top for pollution emissions. They currently get only around 30% of their energy from fossil fuels, and 69% from low carbon, clean energy sources.
Sweden made headlines a few years ago by challenging the world to go fossil fuel free. They have several neighborhoods that are completely carbon neutral
Nevertheless, the country ranks 8th in the world for eco-friendliness, suggesting the country's environmental policies are having some success.
EPI 77.7, 10 Year Change +7.6
Norway's government has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by the year 2030. They currently produce over 98% of the country's electricity from renewable energy sources, mostly via hydro electric power.
Currently they rank 2nd for Environmental Health and have a perfect score for water sanitation and drinking water quality.
EPI 77.2, 10 Year Change +1.2
Rated as the 10th most green country overall, Germany ranks 4th in the Biodiversity and Habitat category. But they lag slightly behind some of their European neighbors when it comes to some other environmental issues.
They have a less than perfect pollution emissions score, and are the only country in the top 10 which has seen this get worse over the previous 10 years.
Nevertheless, they are making some efforts to become more sustainable. The country's Renewable Energy Act, which has been copied by several other countries, is one of 10 things they are doing to improve the environment.
EPI 75.3, 10 Year Change +1.5
Despite finishing just outside the top 10, the Netherlands boasts perfect scores in the water resources and emissions categories.
Their weakness is the climate change category, where they rank a disappointing 36th. Less than 10% of the country's energy comes from sustainable, renewable sources.
EPI 75.1, 10 Year Change -0.5
Japan is the only one of the top 12 most eco-friendly countries in the world that is outside Europe. However, they are the only country in the top 30 to show a negative 10 year change.
Japan still relies heavily on fossil fuels for its electricity production. Their SO2 and NOx growth rates are both causes for concern.
Wondering where the US ranks? You'll need to look down to position 24. Not a complete disaster (and much higher than China) but nowhere near the leaders.
EPI 69.3, 10 Year Change 2.9
For comparison, the US ranks as the 24th greenest country in the world. The country does not excel in any particular category.
Small improvements are being made in several areas, but given its wealth and resources, the US should be doing more to lead the way in terms of sustainability.
More efforts need to be made in all areas in order for the US to get into the top 10.
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a system developed by Yale University that attempts to measure how green a country is, and how its policies and citizens impact the environment.
180 countries around the world are rated using 32 different performance indicators, organized into 11 categories. These include things like environmental health and ecosystem, air quality, emissions, biodiversity and habitat.
The overall score given to each country is an aggregate of their scores in each individual category. In this way the authors are able to quantify how sustainable and environmentally friendly a country is. They can also highlights areas of improvement, or concerns that need to be addressed.
Data in the EPI is updated every 2 years. In 2020, Denmark was named the most sustainable country on Earth.
You can download the full report here, which gives the breakdown of the criteria used and individual scores for all 180 countries surveyed.