How eco-efficient are European countries?

The carbon emissions caused by our high energy consumption aren’t only damaging ecosystems, but also impact human societies on many levels, from our food production to our health. Dealing with the global environmental crisis requires leading economies to invest in sustainable development. As European countries generally have better access to resources for introducing environmental policies, we should expect them to use these for curbing emissions from their high production. Recently, researchers from the Polytechnic University of Valencia reviewed 20 countries in Europe to learn how eco-efficient they really are.

What does eco-efficiency mean?

We often think of economic growth being the worst thing for the environment, but with effective environmental policies in place, that doesn’t have to be the case. Eco-efficiency is “the efficiency with which ecological resources are used to satisfy human needs”. Basically, this means using fewer resources for production, resulting in a lower environmental impact. The concept of eco-efficiency is very important for climate change mitigation in Europe. As the continent is home to economic powerhouses (the EU alone has a GDP of around $18 trillion), the average European is responsible for much higher carbon emissions on average.

In order for the economy to keep growing sustainably, it must be eco-efficient. As a whole, European countries have introduced several plans and policies to reduce emissions, which are ambitious compared to many areas. For example, the 2019 European Green Deal aims for a 55% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. But in an economic union, increasing production is still a priority. Have European countries’ “green” investments made a difference?

Examining European environmental policies

A recent study published in Technology in Society examined the eco-efficiency of 20 European countries from 2014 to 2018. They wanted to find out whether introducing sustainable practices has resulted in positive change for countries. They also wanted to determine a link between a country’s economic prosperity and eco-efficiency. Their results show that nations managed to increase eco-efficiency while simultaneously boosting productivity. Ireland, for example, had its GDP grow by over 10% and still achieved the maximum energy efficiency score. As part of the Green Deal and other climate change strategies, the EU has significantly invested in renewable energy, which is key to achieving high efficiency levels.

Europe as a whole has shown a strong commitment to tackling environmental issues, with countries signing international climate change treaties and setting carbon reduction targets. When it comes to wealth, the study also found that a country’s economic situation did not dictate its environmental policy. For instance, Spain managed to become more eco-efficient and commit to reducing emissions. But Czechia, which has a similar GDP, was very inefficient.

Another question researchers wanted answering was whether a country’s eco-efficiency depending on its location. What they found was a strong East-West divide of eco-efficiency levels in Europe. France, Ireland, Spain and the UK had the highest levels of eco-efficiency, whereas Czechia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland were at the bottom of the table. Within Europe, there is definite room for improvement when it comes to sustainable production. These results show that those in power must adapt environmental policies to each country. This should involve allocating more resources for green technologies to less eco-efficient areas.

Green growth?

The take-home message from these findings shouldn’t be that the consequences of capitalism for the environment should be ignored. Several studies indicate that increased global GDP is linked to higher carbon emissions. However, the world’s leading economies can take notes from European economies and focus on eco-efficient production. Advancing humanity should no longer be an excuse for reckless pollution.

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