Home Assessing the most eco-friendly expat destinations in 2024

Assessing the most eco-friendly expat destinations in 2024

Posted by on May 22nd, 2024.

Pier at Playa Muro - Mallorca, balearic island of spain

There are lots of things to consider when choosing where to go to achieve the best quality of life for you and your family: schooling, weather, work-life balance, culture…

At first glance, environmental impact may not come top of the list. However, environmental schemes often have benefits for a country’s residents – more green spaces and cleaner air, for example. Read on to find out more about which countries are doing their bit for the planet.

Why the environment matters

Climate anxiety is a growing phenomenon amongst a population concerned for the future of planet Earth. A greater awareness of threats to the environment has triggered a worldwide surge in environmental campaigns. There is a big focus upon the younger generations, as the state of the planet has implications during their lifetime, for the weather, natural resources and public health.

The good news is that greater awareness is driving change as policymakers take note of their constituents’ demands. Some countries are further ahead than others in meeting climate targets set by the Paris Agreement in 2015, however.

Measuring carbon footprints

One way of measuring the environmental impact a country has is to calculate its carbon footprint. This takes into account the total amount of greenhouse gasses released into the environment, via activities such as transportation, manufacturing and construction. Naturally, bigger countries tend to have a larger carbon footprint, so a good way to gauge each country’s comparability is to measure the carbon footprint per capita.

Of the top ten expat destinations, according to InterNations’ latest Expat Insider report, the worst offender is Taiwan. The average carbon dioxide output per person in a year amounts to 11.6 tonnes; recent data from the Global Carbon Budget shows that the majority of emissions come from burning coal. Yet Taiwan’s carbon footprint per capita is still far below that of the worst offender globally: in Qatar, the average output per citizen is a whopping 37.6 tonnes.

The top-ten country with the lowest carbon footprint per capita is the Philippines. The average CO2 output per person is a mere 1.3 tonnes, with oil accounting for a larger percentage of the country’s emissions than in Taiwan. A scientific paper from 2023 demonstrates that per capita emissions of a selection of greenhouse gases have declined steadily since 1976.

Another popular country with a comparatively low carbon footprint is Costa Rica. The average CO2 output per capita has dropped from a peak of 1.8 tonnes in 2007, to 1.5 tonnes at the latest reading, and the country is making good progress towards its 2019 climate change goals. According to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) – an independent scientific project that tracks government climate action – Costa Rica has deployed infrastructure to support a transition to electric vehicles and continues to develop new policies addressing emissions in livestock and waste treatment.

Examples of green initiatives

In general, world governments are aware of the polluting effects of industrial operations and many countries have taken steps to switch to renewable energy sources to minimise carbon output. Last month, Francesco La Camera, Director-General of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), said:

‘The shift towards a renewables-based energy system is accelerating, and with the adoption of a global goal to triple renewable power capacity by 2030 at COP28, this trend is expected to intensify.’

However, eco-friendly practices don’t all look the same – new wind turbines and solar energy plants are only part of the equation.

The Green Future Index measures the degree to which the economies of different countries are developing clean energy, industrial and agricultural practices not just through investment in renewables but also through innovation and green policy. Iceland came top of the list at the last reading, in 2023, closely followed by Finland, which the year before had approved a legislative package with technical requirements for the construction of low-carbon buildings.

Finland has taken its own approach towards minimising fossil fuel dependence by looking to the natural, renewable materials that are locally available. In 2021, the International Monetary Fund remarked upon ‘Finland’s Green Building Revolution’, observing that ‘cutting-edge Finnish companies are coming up with new ways to use wood, from the production of clothing to multistorey buildings, from packaging to sustainable fuels and even battery production.’

The initiative has immediate benefits for Finnish citizens as well as for the planet: the development of bio-based materials and their application requires expertise, opening up new job opportunities, while the reduction of carbon emissions into the atmosphere means cleaner, healthier air.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, Europe’s largest energy storage plant is capable of storing up to 100 MWh of electricity in lithium-ion megabatteries, reducing the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. The storage plant also provides a reliable backup source in case of a shortage of wind or solar energy.

Developing the capacity for energy storage is a promising step, as the World Economic Forum (WEF) claims that Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES) may be the key to renewable energy expansion.

What can I do?

If you’re interested in moving to a country doing its bit for the environment, some of the top contenders are listed in this article: the Philippines, Costa Rica, Iceland, Finland and Belgium are each putting the environment firmly on the agenda.

On the other hand, not being able to live somewhere, especially eco-friendly, doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact. Within most countries, there are groups seeking to effect change for the benefit of the environment, on a local or national level. Joining such a group can help families and individuals to form their own greener-living targets while supporting governments in adopting eco-friendly policies.

In either case, further research is encouraged. Official statistics often miss undocumented efforts, such as community drives to rehabilitate wildlife and restore native ecosystems. The eco-rating of a country or region can vary greatly depending upon how it’s measured; sources of further information include the World Economic Forum, the Sustainable Development Report and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

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