Eight countries have already reached net zero emissions, helping to combat climate change, according to the latest data. These carbon sinks absorb more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year than they emit. Most of them are small, with limited industrial sectors and prioritizing ecological safeguards.
Global action to combat climate change has triggered a wave of national pledges to reach net-zero emissions: the U.S. and many others are aiming for 2050, with countries like China and India aiming for decades later. Yet a small handful of countries have already gained control over their emissions.
NET ZERO EMISSIONS ARE ACHIEVED WHEN EACH YEAR MORE CARBON DIOXIDE IS ABSORBED FROM THE ATMOSPHERE THAN IS EMITTED. REACHING NET ZERO ON A GLOBAL SCALE IS A KEY PART OF EFFORTS TO PREVENT GLOBAL WARMING FROM EXCEEDING THE 1.5C CLIMATE TARGET.
As the chart shows, in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought many economies to virtual stagnation, the world emitted 58.5 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). And greenhouse gas emissions are higher today than when 190 countries adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015.
"Large emitters" and small emitters are developing long-term decarbonization plans in sectors such as energy, electricity and heat, industry, transportation and agriculture. For others rich in natural resources like rainforests that naturally absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, with small populations, limited industrial output and strict environmental protection, the road tosustainability is a little easier.
Here are the eight countries that have already achieved net zero emissions, according to research collected by Energy Monitor.
Agriculture, sustainable forestry and tourism account for the bulk of Bhutan's economic activity.
Hidden in the Himalayas, the kingdom has long pursued policies that promote sustainable forest management rather than deforestation. Protected national parks dominate two-fifths of the country's geology, connected by habitat corridors that allow wildlife to move between them, without human interference.
This tiny volcanic archipelago lies in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, just north of Madagascar. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a population of 800,000 densely concentrated in the main coastal towns of its four islands.
Low emissions from agriculture, fishing and animal husbandry, which account for about half of the country's economy, along with strict environmental protection of almost a quarter of the land area, support the status of net zero.
Congo's rainforests control 88% of Gabon's territory in Central Africa, thanks to a strong commitment to non-deforestation and sustainable management of its natural resources.
Located in the Congo Basin, which is one of the largest "carbon outlets" in the world, Gabon emits very little carbon dioxide while absorbing large amounts. The United Nations has called Gabon a model of environmental conservation.
Guyana is another tree-lined country that sits on the north coast of South America surrounded by the Amazon rainforest. Having already achieved net zero emissions, the country aims for a further 70% cut in emissions by 2030.
However, the country became the world's newest oil producer in 2019, which may challenge its position as a net zero greenhouse gas emitter.
Surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the island of Madagascar sits off the east coast of Africa and relies on agriculture and fishing for its main economic output.
While it's currently net zero emitter, large-scale deforestation has caused a quarter of the country's forest canopy cover to disappear since 2000, according to Global Forest Watch. If the current rate of tree loss continues, Madagascar will become a net carbon dioxide emitter by 2030, Banerjee Monitor notes.
At the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Panama joined Suriname and Bhutan to form an alliance of carbon-negative countries, calling for support for carbon trade and pricing and encouraging greater efforts to reach net zero, Energy Monitor notes.
With a population of 4.5 million people, about 65% of Panama is covered by rainforest and the government plans to reforest 50,000 hectares of land by 2050, improving its status as a carbon outlet.
Suriname's small Amazon country is among the richest forest countries in the world, with forest canopies covering 93% of its territory.
SURINAME'S FORESTS ABSORB BILLIONS OF TONNES OF CO2 AND SUPPORT RICH BIODIVERSITY, LEADING IT TO FORM "CARBON CREDIT" PARTNERSHIPS TO OFFSET EMISSIONS AND HELP PRESERVE ITS FOREST ECOSYSTEMS.