Top 6 carbon-neutral countries
Updated: Mar 22
Carbon neutrality has been a hot topic for the last few years. The topic drew attention after the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015. The two Multi-Lateral Agreements (MEAs) had the sole goal of attaining sustainability in all aspects of the environment. One of the main drives is achieving carbon neutrality, a phenomenon where the net carbon emissions are reduced to zero. Since 2015, many countries have been making a move to carbon neutrality. Bhutan is the only country that is carbon negative, and Suriname claims to have a carbon-negative economy. Let's find out how they and other countries are achieving this.
This is a small country in the Asian continent. It is surrounded by the Himalayas and sandwiched between Tibet and India. Bhutan is bordered by Bangladesh to the north and Nepal to the east. Small as it is, it the only country that has attained carbon negativity. This means that the country removes more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. When compared on an algorithm, the sequestration is higher than the emission, rendering Bhutan carbon negative. Of course, this is not something that it slept over and woke up to. It is a product of years of effort. Hence, what has Bhutan done to become a carbon negative country?
How Bhutan achieved carbon negativity
The primary cause of the carbon negativity in Bhutan is the healthy political agenda that exists there. In Bhutan, the political agenda is about Gross National Happiness (GNH). This index prioritizes the happiness and well-being of a population. With this kind of index, the environment has been put at the forefront. While other nations use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure their growth, Bhutan uses the GNH, which puts happiness at the core of development. The GNH pillars; GNH has four pillars; sustainable and socio-economic development, cultural preservation, good governance, and environmental conservation. Environmental conservation being part of the GNH pillars has seen carbon gas being offset. The already built greenhouse gases have diminished. Additionally, in evaluating happiness, the Bhutanese constitution has nine domains, and ecological diversity and resilience are among them. This means that they put every effort required to ensure that their environment is kept in its pristine condition. The GNH also has nine indices used to gather polls occasionally on environmental matters. These polls have worked for the good of carbon negativity since they encourage Bhutan's government to pass more laws that safeguard the environment and reduce carbon emissions.
Government-led governance; many countries enjoy help from foreign donors. This comes with influence since such governments are more inclined to consult their donors for decision-making. In Bhutan, the nation is at the center. Inside of entertaining support from all countries, it is selective with countries it mingles with. The government thus creates plans that care for its people. This generally ensures sustainable policies which make carbon negativity possible.
Environmental policies; Strict environmental policies have also helped Bhutan become carbon negative. As of 2016, more than 50% of Bhutanese land was covered by protected areas like parks, reserves, and sanctuaries. These protected areas are connected by biological corridors, a factor that allows free roaming of wildlife throughout the country. This unique conservation is possible because of the Bhutanese constitution that embraces conservation.
Economic diversification; Bhutan has diversified its economy. This happens by tapping on its fast-flowing rivers for hydroelectric power. Remember, hydroelectric energy is renewable in nature and has minimum carbon emission. The power produced is surplus for its 750,000 people population. It thus exports the energy that it does not need to offset carbon in other parts of the world.
Suriname is a small South American country with about 591,800 people. It is bordered by Guyana to the west and French Guiana to the east. The Atlantic Ocean borders Suriname to the north, and Brazil borders it to the south. In 2014, a UNDP newsletter reported that Suriname had claimed a carbon-negative economy. In attaining carbon neutrality, two methods are involved; achieving a balance between carbon emission and carbon offset, and reducing the emissions. For the claimed carbon neutrality in Suriname, the former applies. With about 93% forest cover, the carbon sequestration in Suriname supersedes carbon emission. In comparison, the carbon that sank from the atmosphere was higher than what was being emitted, rendering its economy carbon negative.
Talking about countries putting every single effort to be carbon neutral, we can’t leave Denmark behind. Even before the MEAs like Paris Agreement made carbon neutrality popular, Denmark was already exerting itself to become carbon neutral. In 2010, its capital, Copenhagen, declared a carbon neutrality goal by 2025. This clause reveals the plans laid to reach this goal; a 20% reduction in thermal and commercial electricity consumption; 100 new wind turbines construction; 60,000 square meters of new solar panels; 75% of all journeys to be on foot, by bike, or by public transport; organic wastes bio-gasification; and 100% of the Copenhagen’s thermal needs to be fulfilled by renewables. Interestingly, the efforts are not futile as by 2020, carbon reduction had reached 42%!
The UK is among the first countries to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. As of now, it is doing all that is possible to attain carbon neutrality. In 2008, a majority of 463/3 passed Britain's Climate Change Act, making it a law. It compels the government to attain net-zero emissions by 2050. The government sets a legally-binding carbon budget with a five-year carbon emissions cap that should not be exceeded. They are shifting from coal and gas energy sources to electricity and using low-carbon energy sources. Carbon price floors have also been established.
Morocco is one of the signatories of the Paris Agreement. In reducing its carbon emission, it had action plans. Its National Energy Strategy aimed for a 42% and 52% increase in energy generation from renewable sources by 2020 and 2030, respectively. Surprisingly, in 2019, National Geographic established that Morocco was at 35%! Indeed, it is putting efforts to become carbon neutral. Such projects as the Noor Ouarzazate complex, the largest concentrated solar panel firm in the world, see this dream realized.
This is an African country with clear pathways to carbon neutrality and a 2C temperature achievement. It's using the same strategy as Morocco, of shifting to renewable energy sources. A fifth of its electricity will be generated by a big photovoltaic plant intended to be constructed at Jambur near Banjul. Additionally, a project has been set up by the Gambian government to restore 10,000 hectares of mangroves, forests, and savannas. The Gambia is also actively replacing flooded rice paddies with dry upland rice fields. Efficient cookstoves are being adopted to tame down the overuse of forest resources.
In summary, Carbon neutrality has become a global goal since 2015 when countries adopted the Paris Agreement. 'It's easier said than done,' that's a common saying we are familiar with. It also applies to the goal of carbon neutrality. Although about 196countries signed the agreement, only a few are trying their best. Bhutan is already carbon negative. Suriname claimed a carbon-negative economy in 2014. Others like the UK, Denmark, Morocco, and the Gambia are exerting efforts to become carbon neutral soon.