The US is still struggling to move away from fossil fuels.

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The world’s largest carbon-emitting nations have lagged far behind their competitors in tackling a “global climate emergency”, according to new research.

The Green Future Index, released by MIT Technology Review late last month, measures and rates 76 nations and territories for their progress in building a low-carbon future. It found that China and the United States continue to lag behind Europe and other parts of the world in decarbonization.

“Europe is fast becoming a leading climate company with 15 of the top 20 countries in the index,” Claire Beatty, editorial director at MIT Technology Review Insights, told CNBC.

The open assessment underscores the slow progress that major polluters are making in their efforts to decouple their energy systems and economies from fossil fuels, despite new pledges to prioritize clean technology, industry and infrastructure in their post-pandemic recovery plans.

At the top of the Green Future Index is Iceland, a nation with a strong track record in clean energy generation and carbon capture technology. This is followed by Denmark (2nd), Norway (3rd), France (4th) and Ireland (5th).

The index takes into account five pillars, including carbon emissions, the share of renewable energies in energy consumption, environmentally friendly initiatives of a society, innovations in decarbonization and the effectiveness of national climate policy.

“Many of these countries, especially in Northern Europe, are very ambitious in decarbonising and building green infrastructures into their energy and transportation industries,” said Beatty.

Beyond the European bloc, the survey reveals a far more troubling history of global efforts to address the global climate challenge.

Great country ranking

The largest carbon emitting nations in the world had poor results. India (21st) was well ahead of the US (40th) and China (45th) in overall decarbonization efforts.

Despite strong emissions growth, India said India was “rapidly adopting renewable energy and building some of the world’s largest solar systems”. Even so, India still relies heavily on coal for cheap power generation and jobs.

Researchers said the United States, responsible for 15% of global emissions, “is still struggling to move away from fossil fuels and carbon-intensive agriculture.” The Joe Biden government pledges to reverse the rolling back on environmental regulations and make the US a 100% clean energy economy with net zero emissions by 2050.

“The lack of political leadership in the US on climate and energy over the past four years has been very problematic,” Kurt Waltzer, executive director of the research organization Clean Air Task Force, told CNBC.

“The US has seen significant growth in renewable energy, but it started from a very small base. To truly move to a decarbonised energy system, the US needs to set clear requirements in conjunction with energy innovation strategies that will keep all sectors out of emissions cause, “Waltzer added.

China, responsible for 28% of global emissions, has pledged to hit net carbon zero by 2060, but progress is slow. Coal continues to play a key role in China’s energy mix.

“National climate ambitions are currently too low – an issue that will be the main theme of COP26 later this year – but it is important that we do not treat all countries equally,” said Waltzer.

“The industrialized countries should lead with mandates and innovation policies that create decarbonised energy markets. Developing countries must incorporate innovation into economic development and plan longer-term routes to net zero,” he added.

Middle East Progress

The Middle East’s petroeconomics also underperformed, even if the rich Gulf states continue to push ahead with their climate plans.

Morocco (26th) was the highest ranking country in the Middle East and North Africa. Over 40% of the country’s electricity is now generated from renewable sources.

Israel (38th) took second place in the region and promised to get 13% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. The UAE (43rd) took third place.

Petrostats like Saudi Arabia (61st), Russia (73rd) and Iran (74th) were classified as “climate protection” because of “a lack of progress and commitment to the development of a modern, clean and innovative economy”. Qatar was ranked 76th at the bottom of the index.

The report said the pressure on oil revenues associated with Covid-19 would likely delay national economic diversification programs and further stall emissions reduction efforts.