SEATTLE — A recent report by the World Bank produced data from 2011 and 2012 showing countries where 80 percent of electricity generated comes from renewable energy. Here are the top five countries that have sourced their energy needs almost entirely through renewable energy sources:
1. Albania – 100 percent
2. Paraguay – 100 percent
3. Iceland – 99.98 percent
4. Mozambique – 99.86 percent
5. Zambia – 99.86 percent
These relatively small countries are leaps and bounds ahead of developed nations like the United States (12.01 percent), Germany (22.93 percent) and France (14.90 percent).
The trend revealed by the data contradicts a common thought regarding the environment and the economy.
The environmental Kuznets curve, according to a paper from David Stern at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, is “a hypothesized relationship between various indicators of environmental degradation and income per capita.”
Essentially, the idea is that the poorer a country’s population is, the more impact it will have on the environment. In ecological economics, this relationship has interesting implications for international environmental policymaking.
But how valid is this inverse correlation? Of the top five, only Iceland ($46,097) is in the top thirty for GDP per capita based on purchasing power parity. Mozambique ($1,186), Zambia ($3,868) and Paraguay ($8,708) are all near the bottom of the rankings in this category.
Based on the theory, these last three countries should have the least care for the environment based on the early stages of their economy. Like the industrial periods that occurred in current developed nations, a robust period of growth should be defined by an increase in consumption and population which typically leads to more waste.
But do renewable sources of energy really take a back seat to an economic blossom?
The trend shown by the World Bank report contradicts the pattern put forth by development theory, but a lot has changed since the Kuznets curve was adopted.
According to analysis of 55 countries by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, “developing countries’ renewable energy capacity grew 143 percent between 2008 and 2013” while more developed countries “saw only 84 percent growth.”
The increase of international monitoring by organizations like the United Nations and the World Health Organization has forced member nations to come to terms with clean energy solutions earlier in their development.
Participation in the Paris agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030 has also been an impetus for change to come quicker. Four out of the top five listed above signed the UN agreement on April 22, 2016.
As globalization continues to include every economy in an interconnected financial web, the process called “leapfrogging” has become more feasible. “Leapfrogging” is described as the process where poorer countries “skip fossil fuel reliance in favor of renewables.”
With the growth of foreign direct investment in these countries, the implementation of new renewable technologies can be done quicker and more efficiently. All five countries listed in the top five have seen foreign direct investment generally increase between 2011 and 2014.
The old Kuznets curve way of thinking has clouded the future of developing countries and their energy sources. Improving the lives of the population and protecting the environment can be two goals that coexist and even flourish in today’s global economy.
With the help of the international community, the integration of these technologies and the benefits that come with them are accessible even to the poorest of nations.
– Jacob Hess