In countries where citizens prioritize climate and sustainability, governments and industries have permission to do more. That often translates into a higher score.

Sweden, for instance, ranked eighth in the overall GTI Index, can be considered a true environmental pioneer. In 1967, it became the first country in the world to pass an environmental protection act, and it also hosted the United Nations' first conference on the global environment in 1972. In 1995, it was one of the first countries to introduce a carbon tax.[i] In 1999, Sweden set up a unique environmental quality objective system to provide a clear set of principles for action that included one generational goal, 16 environmental quality objectives, and 24 milestone targets.[i] The system engages Swedes from all areas of society in what is sometimes called Sweden's largest cooperative project. This political target-setting framework — as well as Sweden's highly egalitarian, inclusive society —encourages its people to actively participate in the fight against climate change.

Cyprus, on the other hand, holds the lowest GTI score of all countries and has struggled to make progress. The country ranks last in the Water Exploitation Index and in emissions intensity of both manufacturing and passenger transport. It scores next to last in the share of renewables in its overall electricity mix and in its five-year track record of reducing GHG emissions. Further, it has one of the lowest scores for circularity rates and municipal waste landfills across the peer group. But there is hope. Having fallen short of the EU's 2020 renewables target, the country announced the creation of a directorate for managing environmental issues in September 2021. The new directorate's purview will be climate change, biodiversity, circular economy and waste management, water and soil pollution control, and environmental control and monitoring. Over the next five years, Cyprus plans to invest more than €1 billion in the transition to a green economy. To tackle its waste problem, Cyprus recently introduced “pay-as-you-throw," a pricing model based on usage for municipal solid waste.[i] Citizens are charged based on how much waste they generate and dispose of, and they also have to pay for garbage bags. An earlier pilot showed that the new program might reduce waste as much as 40%.

As we have seen, a country's wealth may facilitate and accelerate its progress towards more sustainable performance. However, consistent efforts across all dimensions of the economy, as well as a strong political drive that includes ambitious targets and a clear road map, are required to advance and become a truly sustainable country. Each country should aim to lead environmental sustainability forward by implementing changes that follow best practices from the categories' top performers.