Ranking Countries For Climate Change Performance–And Why The U.S. Is Just 43rd

Pretty much every country in the world is failing to deal with climate change, but the U.S. is failing worse than most.

With the planet barreling towards dangerous levels of climate change, no country can hold its head high. When we talk about climate “performance”–as a new ranking of countries does–we mean it relatively: that Italy is doing better than Saudi Arabia, for example. That doesn’t mean we can all afford to live like Italy in the future. If that happens, we’ll still soar past relatively safe global warming levels.


The new ranking comes from two European nonprofits–Germanwatch, in Germany, and Climate Action Network Europe, in Belgium–and aims to “enhance transparency in international climate politics.” It flattens out the differences in 58 country approaches, and gets at the data, showing us which nations are moving ahead, and which are lagging behind.

The groups scored countries across five criteria: emissions levels, emissions trends (including sectors like buildings, road traffic, and aviation), government climate policy, development of renewables, and energy efficiency. As you can see, most of the leading countries are European, starting with Denmark (which scores particularly highly for policy), the U.K., Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland. Morocco is the first non-European country (in 15th), with Mexico (20th) the first from the Americas. The report doesn’t award any countries top three places because of a general “lack of ambition” among all countries. “No single country is yet on track to prevent dangerous climate change,” the report explains.

The United States keeps its lowly position from last year’s report, remaining in 43rd place. The authors praise an 8% drop in overall emissions in the last five years. The U.S. has also climbed 12 places for policy-making. (“The government shows more stringency in climate policy than in the last legislative period,” the report says). But the U.S. continues to fall down the list for high levels of emissions and poor energy efficiency.

It’s not the worst among big emitting countries, though. Countries like Russia (56th), Australia (57th), and Canada (58th) are further down the list. “Canada still shows no intention of moving forward with climate policy and therefore remains the worst performer of all industrialized countries,” the report says. And it’s nowhere near as bad as Saudi Arabia, which is practically off the bottom of the charts. Its score of 25.17 is a full 12 points below the next worst country (Kazakhstan), a big amount given the 100-point system.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.