If you’re the kind of person who wants to see more of what this wonderful world has to offer, you’re probably also the kind of person who wants to keep the planet in tip-top condition. After all, it’s hard to wander the streets of Venice if they’re underwater, ride a camel through the desert if it’s snowing, or appreciate the skyline of New York if it’s swirling in pollution.
Expatriating and doing your bit to help the planet can easily go hand-in-hand. Move to one of these eco-friendly cities and you could find yourself living greener without even changing your lifestyle, although there are of course many ways these nations make it easy to become even more environmentally responsible.
Plenty of cities across the globe are introducing green policies and attempting to clean themselves up and reduce their impact upon the planet. But some have been doing it for a long time now, while others just do it better than most.
We’ve taken a look at five exceptional green cities and everything they can offer the environmentally-conscious expat.
According to the US and Canada Green City Index – an Economist Intelligence Unit report sponsored by Siemens – Vancouver is the highest-rated Canadian city in terms of its eco-credentials. The city comes in second on the overall ranking, with a score of 81.3, tops the ranking for lowest CO2 emissions and has the best quality air.
Relatively speaking, Vancouver is a low-income city, which just goes to prove that being green isn’t all about throwing money at the problem – in fact, all the Canadian cities on the Green City Index have lower income per capita than their US counterparts and yet consistently rank around ten places higher.
Hydropower is one of the key assets Vancouver boasts in the fight against pollution and the city has vowed to cut its emissions by a third by 2020.
Would you expect anything less from the city that gave birth to Greenpeace?
There’s only really one fact you need to know about Amsterdam to convince you of its eco-credentials: the city is home to more bicycles than people. Not that there are apartment blocks full of bicycles, who all ride humans to work and hang out in bicycle bars in the evenings.
The city has lots of bicycle-friendly infrastructure and even those who shun two wheels in favour of four are doing their bit by driving electric vehicles. Amsterdam is home to over 300 charging stations, so it’s quite hard to get caught-out by a flat battery. Many residents currently generate their own electricity using solar power and the local authorities have plans to go much further.
According to the Amsterdam 2040 Energy Strategy:
‘It is expected that between 60% and 90% of all the kilometres travelled by car in Amsterdam in 2040 will be powered by green electricity generated by windmills, solar panels and biomass power stations. Only quiet, electric boats will be allowed to travel along the canals. Goods will also be transported electrically, in bulk, by road and water.’
Curitiba is something of a world-leader when it comes to being green, and was well ahead of its South American peers in terms of adopting eco-friendly policies and practices. Way back in 2010 when Siemens released its Latin American Green City Index, Curitiba was the only city of the 17 analysed to score ‘well above average’.
It was ranked ‘above average’ in five out of the eight sub-indices, and was the only ‘well above average’ city in the air quality and waste categories.
Curitiba boasts an impressive 50m² of green space per capita; in 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggested that every city should have a minimum of 9m². The city also boasts a highly-advanced transport network, with 60% of residents getting around by bus and many enjoying the 150 miles of bike paths. Green policies have even incentivised over half to give up their private vehicles over the past few decades.
What makes this all so impressive is the Curitiba began the process that turned it into one of the world’s greenest cities over 40 years ago, making it hard to believe that the rest of the world is only just starting to catch up.
Being surrounded by 30 active volcanoes it is hardly surprising that Reykjavik has cottoned on to the enormous potential of geothermal energy for creating clean power with zero emissions.
99% of all electricity used by the city comes from these geothermal energy sources. The heat is even being used to grow fruit and vegetables in greenhouses lit by hydroelectricity, meaning the next salad you eat may have been grown using volcano power.
All this means that an estimated 110 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions were avoided between 1944 and 2006 thanks to the city’s reliance instead upon renewable energy sources. Reykjavik avoids four million tonnes of annual CO2 emissions ever year – in fact, Iceland only requires fossil fuels to generate about 0.1% of its yearly electricity demands.
Iceland wants to become a hydrogen-powered economy by 2050, with some vehicles and even a trio of city buses already powered this way.
San Francisco may be more famous for its trams and Alcatraz, but it’s also worthy of renown for its eco-credentials.
Like Curitiba, San Francisco led the way with its green policies, becoming the first city to ban plastic bags in 2007, introducing the first urban composting and food waste programme in the US in 2009, and spending decades on its water conservation efforts.
These days the city recycles around 80% of its waste (and aims to be waste-free by 2020), has reduced carbon emissions by 12% compared to 1990 levels, introduced 700 additional ‘cleaner air vehicles’ since 1999 and sees its residents use less than half the daily water usage of the United States as a whole (49 gallons compared to 100 gallons).
Saving the planet is all very well, but you want to be able to enjoy it too. San Francisco is a place that makes it very easy to get close to nature, with miles and miles of hiking trails surrounding the city, including the famous Twin Peaks trail, as well as a huge number of parks and even habitat restoration projects to volunteer for.
For some the image of going green conjures up notions of sacrifice. But you won’t have to give up your lifestyle if you move to one of these cities.
Each of them offers an amazing experience and all of the usual perks you would want from a place to live, whilst giving you the added peace of mind that you are doing your bit to help protect the planet.
What could be more rewarding?
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