COP26: What are the five greenest countries and the five biggest carbon emitters?

By Elisa Menendez, ITV News


World leaders will gather in Glasgow next week to discuss how best to tackle climate change at COP26.

The United Nations annual meeting will also be an opportunity for countries to hold each other accountable for their efforts in reducing global warming.

In 2015, almost 200 countries signed up to the historic Paris Agreement pledging to limit global warming to well below 2C but preferably 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

As the meeting fast approaches, which countries are among the best in tackling climate change and which ones are not?

Which countries are getting it right?

Scandinavian and Nordic countries are some of the greenest in the world, with the likes of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden leading the way with switching to sustainable resources.

Such countries are doing well as "they tend to be less industrialised and have lower, spread out populations", Executive Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Asher Minns, told ITV News.

Other experts note that Nordic and Scandinavian cultures are generally more eco-conscious than others, with more of an emphasis on slow living, while many governments have green policies at the forefront of their economies.

The COP26 climate conference - what you need to know

What is COP26? When and where will it be?

Each year, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meets at what is called the Conference of the Parties (abbreviated as COP) to discuss the world's progress on climate change and how to tackle it.

COP26 is the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties summit which will be held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

Who is going?

Leaders of the 197 countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – a treaty that came into force in 1994 - are invited to the summit.

These are some of the world leaders that will be attending COP26:

  • US President Joe Biden, climate envoy John Kerry, climate adviser and former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and 10 other US cabinet officials.

  • Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison. In the days leading up to COP26, Mr Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Prince Charles, Prince William, the Duchess of Cornwall and the Duchess of Cambridge are also attending. The Queen has withdrawn from visiting after being advised by her doctors to rest - she will address the conference virtually instead.

China's President Xi Jinping, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, and President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are among the leaders that have decided not to travel to Glasgow.

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What is it hoping to achieve?

1. Achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels - Countries are being encouraged to set ambitious 2030 emissions targets. They are also encouraged to accelerate the phase-out of coal, clamp down on deforestation, speed up the switch to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewables.

2. Protect natural habitats and communities from climate change disasters

3. Finances for a greener future - In 2009, developed countries were asked to keep to their promises to contribute at least $100 billion (£72.5 billion) per year by 2020 to protect the planet. In 2015, it was agreed that the goal would be extended to 2025.

However, new analysis shows the goal is unlikely to have been met last year and is on track to fall short in 2021 and 2022.

4. Getting all countries and organisations to work together to tackle the climate crisis

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Despite recent climate protests over the years, the UK is also considered one of the best examples in the world at reducing harmful greenhouse gases.

"No countries are wholly exemplar as it's too difficult to do," added Mr Minns.

"But the UK is an exemplar as emissions have come down."

The EU as a whole is complex to analyse as it is considered one of the world's biggest emitters.

But many of the countries within it have declining emissions, along with the world's 10 most green, climate conscious countries, according to researchers at Yale and Columbia universities.

Some of the top greenest countries:

According to the latest Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which ranks 180 nations on 32 performance indicators from air quality to climate change policies, the following countries (in order) are the most all-round eco-friendly:

  • Denmark

Denmark's capital Copenhagen is known for its bicycle friendly roads

According to the EPI, Denmark is leading the world in slowing its growth in CO2 emissions with cutting-edge climate commitments.

Denmark is also hoping to become the first country to become entirely independent of fossil fuels by 2050.

And the changes are already visible in everyday life. On the streets of the capital Copenhagen, recycling vending machines refund a deposit when items like cans are inserted into them.

The country has long been famed for its love of cycling and the government has invested more than £100 million in cycling highways since 2005. Around 45% of people in Copenhagen are said to cycle to work.

Denmark has also been clever with how it utilises buildings, with a prime example being CopenHill - a green energy power plant with an outdoor ski slope and recreational hill on top.

  • Luxembourg

The Mullerthal Trail in Luxembourg

The small European country is known for its efforts in protecting biodiversity, natural habitats and water resources.

One progressive way it has protected biodiversity is by creating wildlife corridors running across major roads.

Its water legislation is also understood to offer less funding to less sustainable sewage treatment plants - and will only give companies more money if they stick to more eco-friendly regulation.

  • Switzerland

Geneva uses its lake water to heat and cool down large buildings in the city

In 2016, Switzerland became the first country to vote for implementing a green economy.

The country has become one of the top recyclers in the world after introducing a levy on bags for household waste, and pushing retailers to sell produce straight from shelves instead of in packaging.

The implementation of a carbon tax has also increasingly encouraged companies and citizens to find eco-friendly energy alternatives, while homes powered by green heat pumps have been the "norm" for some time.

Meanwhile, its Spatial Planning Act helps protect the country's green spaces, including its crystal clear lakes.

Much of Geneva's eco success is down to using its lake water to cool and reheat large buildings and using hydroelectricity plants to power the city's electricity.

  • United Kingdom

More offshore wind turbines are part of the British government's energy policy Credit: PA

According to the EPI, the UK is the second country after Denmark that is successfully slowing its growth in O2 emissions the most.

The UK is considered a global leader in tackling single-use plastic waste, after banning plastic straws, stirrers, cotton buds and microbeads in cosmetic products. The 10p charge on single-use plastic carrier bags has also cut supermarket sales by 95% since 2015, said the government.

It is also a leader in offshore wind with more installed capacity than any other country, powering around 4.5 million homes annually.

And more British homes are about to be powered up by water flowing from Norwegian fjords via the world's longest subsea power cable.

The UK announced this week that it is offering £5,000 grants to homeowners to swap their gas boiler for more eco-friendly systems such as heat pumps.

It comes after the government offered discounts on brand new low-emission vehicles through a grant given to vehicle dealerships and manufacturers.

  • France

Large grocery stores and supermarkets are banned from wasting edible food

Food is a huge part of French culture and since 2016, supermarkets have been banned from throwing away unsold food that is still edible.

Those that donate produce to charities and food banks can take advantage of a pre-existing tax break. Experts say it encouraged businesses like bakeries and start-ups to sell food at the end of the day at a discounted price.

Earlier this year, France approved a climate change bill that will overhaul the transport, housing and food sectors.

The wide-ranging bill includes banning future airport expansions, prohibiting open-air terrace heaters, reduce packaging waste and offering more vegetarian meals in state schools.

The top five carbon emitters:

Pedestrians make their way across a busy intersection on a day with severe air pollution in Beijing Credit: AP
  • China

  • United States

  • India

  • Russia

  • Japan

"What China does influences all carbon emissions, so effectively global climate, because they're such a huge economy power," said Mr Minns.

However, there are great differences in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by each nation. For example, the US emits roughly half of what China does.

China and India's emissions are continuing to rise but the United States' is coming down.