Story at a glance

  • MIT’s Green Future Index reveals which countries are leading the charge in sustainable energy, with Scandinavian countries still in the lead.
  • The U.S. stands at a relatively dismal 40th place.

A new global scale ranks countries on how well their transition to clean energy is going, and it is mediocre news for the U.S. 

Run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and released last month, The Green Future Index takes 76 countries into account, measuring how their infrastructures are moving toward low-carbon energy.

Coming in at 40th place, the U.S. finished far behind contemporary nations, with Iceland, Denmark, Norway and France leading the world in first, second, third and fourth place, respectively.


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Factors that the ranking system takes into account include a country’s carbon emissions, energy transition, green society, clean innovation, and climate policy.

The leading nations, research shows, each have strong legislative initiatives surrounding sustainability, as well as investing in shifting society to rely on alternative energy, including geothermal and hydrogen-based energy.

Unlike similar high-income countries, the U.S. is falling short among its peers in tackling carbon emissions and climate change. The index notes that greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. grew to 29 percent of the country’s total in 2018, but have declined by 16 percent since 1990.

High carbon emissions, lackluster climate policies and energy transitions push the U.S. toward the lower half of rankings.

“The U.S. lack of political leadership on climate and energy for the past four years has been very problematic,” Kurt Waltzer, the managing director of the research organization Clean Air Task Force, told CNBC regarding the index.

“The U.S. has seen significant growth in renewable energy, but that started from a very small base. To really shift to a decarbonized energy system, the U.S. will need to adopt clear requirements combined with energy innovation policies that drive all sectors to net zero emissions” he noted. 

The index does note that under President Biden’s leadership, the U.S. “could reposition itself as a green leader,” given his pledge to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Countries ranking at the bottom of the index include Qatar, Paraguay, Iran, Russia and Algeria. With several of these nations considered strong petrostates, formal climate policy is lacking within each of them.

Leading the Americas in green energy policy are Costa Rica and Canada, ranking at numbers seventh and 14th, respectively. 


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Published on Feb 12, 2021