Climate scientists first raised alarm bells about a phenomenon then referred to as “global warming” over five decades ago — and the public has been aware that human activities strongly contribute to climate change for at least 30 years now.
The same cognitive bias that allows some people to happily smoke a pack a day, spurred on by worries about terrorism or impending job loss, has allowed many of us to avoid facing the grim fact that we’ve been destroying our only planet.
Humans tend to be very scared of immediate threats while being excellent at pushing concerns about distant disasters out of our minds. That’s true on an individual level, but the same principle can also be seen at work on a larger and more collective scale.
The bad news?
Now that the effects of climate change are finally of imminent concern to people throughout the world — whether due to severe floods, extreme heat, and wildfires, or other extreme weather events — and now that many people have finally awoken to the threat of climate change, it’s already too late.
The infamous disaster threshold, a 2 °C increase in global temperatures by 2100, is now all-but-inevitable. In fact, the latest serious research on the topic now estimates that the most likely scenarios will lead to a global temperature increase of between 2 and 4.9 °C.
Those projections, by the way, all presume serious action to mitigate climate change. The worst projections are much grimmer and sometimes feature a temperature rise of more than 6 °C.
The good news?
We can still prevent worst-case and utterly apocalyptic scenarios if we take drastic steps to combat human-caused climate change today.
Some countries have already been making enormous strides. Others, not so much — and the worst environmentally friendly countries often cite the need to make economic progress because they are not doing more.
While those countries that first became industrialized polluted and warmed the Earth, others lagged. Those developing nations now feel they need to catch up, something that drives increased carbon emissions in a big way.
Climate change does not, however, take national borders into account. The emissions from the past and those we continue to pump into the atmosphere right now will increasingly affect every living creature on the planet, though not necessarily equally.
What are the worst eco-friendly countries today, and what makes them so bad?
How Do We Determine What Countries Are Most and Least Environmentally Friendly?
There are multiple ways to determine which are the least environmentally friendly countries. The currently existing scales are designed to examine different things. Although it is impossible to declare certain countries the absolute worst confidently, we can learn a lot from existing scales. Let’s take a look.
The Environmental Performance Index (EPI), created by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network Earth Institute (Columbia University), is one of the most comprehensive tools we can access today.
Last published in 2020 and next due to be released in 2022, the EPI draws on data collected and compiled by governmental organizations, international organizations, and academic institutions to create an informative list.
The Environmental Performance Index looks at numerous parameters that determine how well a country has performed to create ecosystem viability and environmental health.
To name but a few, the metrics the EPI examines include air quality (including particulate matter pollution), waste management strategies, degree of polluting emissions, and steps that have been taken to protect natural environments ranging from forests to marine biomes.
Although the EPI does not look at all possible parameters about environmental sustainability, it does efficiently show how well countries are performing as they work toward more environmentally friendly policies and actions. It is, as such, one of the easiest ways to pinpoint countries that are not environmentally friendly and those that are performing well in the race against climate change.
Another scale that is very much worth examining is the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI), which was developed by a German environmental organization called Germanwatch. Unlike the EPI, the CCPI looks only at those countries with the highest global greenhouse gas emissions — that is, European Union members and 57 additional countries.
Together, the countries that the CCPI examines are responsible for over 90 percent of current global greenhouse gas emissions. As such, the steps they take to become more environmentally sustainable will have a huge impact on the rest of the planet. As with the EPI, the last CCPI report was released in 2020.
With that in mind, what are the least environmentally friendly countries on the planet currently, and why is that?
See Related: What Are the Three E’s of Sustainability
The Least Environmentally Friendly Countries in the World
The 10 countries with the worst Environmental Performance Index scores in 2020 were, starting with the worst:
- Sierra Leone
- Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
- The Solomon Islands
These 10 countries are all poorer, and less developed ones immediately stand out when you look at this loss — in turn shedding light on an important issue.
The problem isn’t simply that these countries, and other low-scoring nations further up the long EPI list that comprises 180 nations, do not care about fighting climate change or increasing environmental sustainability. Rather, because these countries are also some of the poorest in the world, they lack the funds and infrastructure to make progress toward better environmental sustainability.
It would not be accurate, then, to label them as the worst sustainable countries on Earth. Even if they are fully committed to taking the right steps, after all, these countries will not be able to implement more environmentally friendly policies independently.
However, that may change — because as these and other poorer nations pursue increased economic development, their carbon footprint will also, nearly inevitably, grow. To prevent that from happening, the most highly-developed nations, which are also the wealthiest, need to help their poorer counterparts find ways to grow their economies in an environmentally sustainable manner.
If you were curious, the countries that score best on the 2020 EPI are Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, France, Austria, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Germany.
The 2020 CCPI, which examines different factors, shows an entirely different picture. The worst offenders are, in this case (against starting with the least environmentally friendly countries):
- The United States of America
- Saudi Arabia
- Chinese Taipei (more commonly known as Taiwan)
- The Republic of Korea (more commonly called South Korea)
- The Islamic Republic of Iran
- The Russian Federation
These powerful nations could more accurately be considered the least environmentally friendly countries in today’s world, based on the fact that they perform worst when it comes to total greenhouse gas emissions, investments in renewable energy, total energy use (commercial as well as private citizens), and climate policies.
Those people who are shocked that the United States appears at the very bottom of the CCPI rankings, making it the worst offender across all of these areas, should keep in mind that some of the recent setbacks in this area — notably withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement — have already been turned around since a new president was elected.
The picture we see here is one from 2020. Important climate change scales like the EPI and CCPI release regular updates precisely to follow changes as they occur. This, in turn, can offer much-needed wake-up calls that allow individual nations to morph from countries that are not environmentally friendly to ones that score much better by the time the next report comes out.
Were you wondering which countries were the most environmentally friendly according to the Climate Change Performance Index in 2020?
The following countries have taken strong action to reduce greenhouse emissions, introduce renewable energy at an impressive rate, and implement policies that help fight climate change most effectively:
- The United Kingdom
You will instantly see that several of these countries score well on the Environmental Performance Index and the Climate Change Performance Index.
These are the countries that every other nation can look up to and learn from as the world fights to turn the tide and ensure that the planet remains habitable.
However, these countries are performing well doesn’t mean that they can be complacent, as increasingly radical steps need to be taken to minimize the global temperature increase — with bolder action leading to bigger results.
See Related: The Theory of Change
What Countries Have Been Hardest Hit by Climate Change Thus Far?
As time goes on, it will become apparent that no place on Earth — whether currently inhabited by humans or not — will remain unaffected by the impact of climate change. Some places are, however, going to be hit harder and sooner than others.
Entire nations, including Bangladesh, Comoros, Tongo, Seychelles, Palau, Nauru, and Micronesia, could quite literally be wiped off the map as sea levels rise.
Extreme weather events have already created climate refugees in the current world, but millions could be forced to embark on climate migration journeys in the future. It won’t just be their home that’s gone, but their entire country.
What countries have been most affected by extreme weather events that scientists have already concluded to be largely induced by climate change? The same organization that also publishes the Climate Change Performance Index, Germanwatch, also offers a Global Climate Risk Index to keep the world informed.
The most recent report was published in 2021 when extreme weather events suddenly appeared on the global radar as more developed countries were strongly impacted, but it is based on data stretching from 2000 to 2019.
According to the Global Climate Risk Index, the countries that have suffered the most severe weather-related climate change consequences during this time were:
- As an island nation, Japan is particularly vulnerable, and in addition to typhoons and heavy rain, Japan has also suffered from heatwaves.
- The Philippines offers the second example of how climate change can impact island countries, and again, both typhoons and heavy rainfall are the culprits.
- Germany, which suffered from severe floods as well as heatwaves.
- Madagascar, in which rising temperatures threaten agriculture and many unique animal species native to the island.
- India has suffered through floods, extreme heat, sandstorms, and other extreme weather events caused by climate change.
- Nearby Sri Lanka is, due to numerous extreme weather events, the source of many climate refugees already.
- Kenya, too, was heavily affected, primarily by severe droughts that induced serious food insecurity.
- Rwanda was impacted by extreme heat and famine.
- Canada remains known as a cool place, but make no mistake — its temperatures are increasing at double the rate of the rest of the planet, making this country extremely vulnerable.
- As a collection of islands, Fiji is vulnerable to rising sea levels, cyclones, and other extreme weather events.
These countries appear highest on the Global Climate Change Risk Index for several reasons. Lives lost to climate change are taken into account, but also damage to infrastructure and agriculture. This damage has a huge economic impact, from which not all affected countries can recover, and can have serious knock-on effects in the form of famines and job loss even long after an extreme weather event.
Perhaps, the most shocking thing is that the list of least environmentally friendly countries — no matter what index it is based on — is radically different from the list of countries most impacted by climate change.
These very different lists show that a truly global mindset is required to reduce climate change and create a different, more sustainable way of life. More than with any other global health issue, this one requires us all to unite for the good of future generations.