Global Green Economy Index puts Costa Rica at head of impressive Latin American showing

Ranking of global green economies suggests that Latin American countries are far greener than they are given credit for being, with Costa Rica among the best performers in the world.

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Costa Rica is one of the greenest economies in the world and Latin American countries are considerably greener than they are generally seen to be, according to a new study. The 2014 edition of the Global Green Economy Index (GGEI), published by the US-based data consultancy firm Dual Citizen, surveys and ranks 60 countries based on an assessment of their green credentials, as well as on how green they are perceived to be by the rest of the world.

The GGEI was launched in 2010, and this is its fourth edition. However, the 2014 Index represents a leap forward from the previous edition, published in 2012, when only 27 countries were surveyed. Of the nine Latin American countries included, only Argentina, Brazil and Mexico featured in any previous studies, while Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and Uruguay were new additions to the Index.

The principal factors used to rank countries in the GGEI are summarised by four main sections: Climate Change and leadership, including carbon emissions; Efficiency sectors, including the use of renewable energy; Markets and investment, including dynamism and innovation in countries’ respective green economies; and Environment and natural capital, including biodiversity and conservation levels.

“Leaderships need to understand how they’re perceived by their populations to ensure they’re held accountable for their efforts or lack thereof around climate change”, Dual Citizen’s lead consultant Jeremy Tamanini said in comments published by RTCC, underlining the value of a report that links perceptions of how green countries are to how well they actually perform on environmental and sustainability issues.

Such links are essential for helping emerging green economies to spread their message and attract the investment needed to fully develop green infrastructure, according to Tamanini, who added: “If the perceptions are low but their performance is strong, they can employ better communication to bridge those gaps”.

Costa Rica is one of the greenest countries in the world, according to the 2014 Global Green Economy Index 2014. Photo courtesy of The Costa Rican Times.

The Index shows northern European countries generally leading the lists on both Perception and Performance, with Germany and Denmark top of the Perception rank while Sweden and Norway are listed as the best performers. However, one of the biggest surprises from the report sees Costa Rica, which is perceived to have just the 14th greenest economy among the countries included in the survey, ranked third on actual performance, above such noted ‘green superpowers’ as Germany and Denmark.

Colombia is the next-best performer out of Latin American nations, ranked 14th despite being down in 41st place in the Perception rankings. Close behind in the Performance listing is Peru in 16th, again well ahead of its 32nd ranking for Perception. Brazil is the 18th best performer, although in this case its performance roughly matches up with its perception as a green economy (15th, just behind Costa Rica), while Chile (19th on Performance, 35th on Perception) makes it five Latin American countries in the top 20 overall.

Uruguay is another country whose performance far outstrips its perception, rising from 58th to 22nd accordingly. Mexico and Argentina, who like Brazil featured in previous GGEI rankings, also have similar positions on both lists, with Mexico 31st for Performance and 28th for Perception, and Argentina 48th for Performance and 47th for Perception. Finally among Latin American nations, Panama is perceived to have the 59th – or second from the bottom – greenest economy, but its standing doesn’t improve as much as its regional peers when it comes to Performance, rising to just 51st.

The Colombian city of Medellín, which has been praised for its transformation from a violence-riddled holdout of drug cartels to a blueprint for sustainable cities in the 21st Century. Colombia is ranked as the 2nd best Latin American performer on the green economy in the 2014 Global Green Economy Index. Photo courtesy of 100 Resilient Cities.

In addition to the headline achievement of Costa Rica being ranked as the third-best performing country on the green economy, other Latin American highlights include three countries being ranked in the top 10 Performance index for the Efficiency section (Costa Rica 2nd, Colombia 4th, and Chile 10th), despite none of them featuring in the top 10 of the corresponding Perception ranking.

Brazil is also the ninth-best performing country when it comes to Markets and investment, suggesting that the South American giant is succeeding in its efforts to attract outside investment in its green economy. However, the study’s authors suggest that Brazil has plenty of work still to do, saying that “Given its significant natural resources and rising economic power, Brazil can do more in providing leadership around the centrality of green economic growth to its future development”.

Moreover, in its executive summary the report bemoans that “many of the fastest growing economies in the world rank poorly on the GGEI performance measure, highlighting an urgent need to reorient their economies to greener growth pathways”. In particular, China, arguably the world’s emerging economic superpower, ranks 55th on performance despite a perception index ranking of 13th, above Costa Rica.

However, it could be deduced from the Index that Latin American economies are bucking this trend. Colombia, which is currently among the fastest-growing economies in the world, performs exceptionally well in the Index, while the same could also be said of other rising stars in Latin American economic development, such as Chile, Peru and Uruguay.

Chile has been one of the best performers among Latin American countries for economic development over the past few decades, but with growing international recognition of its potential for development of solar power and other renewable energy sources, it is also a driver of green innovation and development in the region. Photo of Solar PV cells in the Atacama Desert, courtesy of Santiago Times.

According to the GGEI’s authors, though, having a Performance ranking that is considerably better than its Perception measure is not all good news. Where performance scores exceed perception ones significantly, the report states, this signals “an urgent need for better strategic communications and information exchange of [countries’] green merits and associated investment opportunities”, as well as “a need for these states to better position their green economies on the international stage”.

While this prescription could well work, especially when applied to some of the European nations in a similar situation but who had also featured in previous editions of the GGEI, for those Latin American countries whose performance far outstrips their perception it could simply be that inclusion in the Index for the first time will help these countries boost their reputation as green economies and viable destinations for green investment on the global stage.