photo: Ben Leto
With a new president elected in the United States, the world may soon turn a corner and create a new unified front on the environment, and climate change in particular. But there are several leaders who have already demonstrated exceptional commitment to the environment in their home countries and in the international arena. In 2009, all of the developed nations will be under increasing pressure to transition to low-carbon and resource-efficient economy. We will be scrutinizing these heads of state above all others to see what good examples they can set for the rest of the world.
And the list is....
Photo credit: Silfur Egils
Iceland's Geir H. Haarde
Despite the economic pummeling Iceland has taken in recent months, its eco cred remains top-notch. The island nation gets 80 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources, an impressive achievement even for a country of 300,000 people. We posted videos of Iceland's geothermal stations earlier this year. Even with the economic downturn, Prime Minister Haarde remains committed to making renewable energy a new pillar of the Icelandic economy.
Earlier this year, Haarde was named the greenest political leader by NEWSWEEK. He has been lauded not only for his leadership in expanding geothermal supply, but also for training scientists around the world as Iceland has headed the geothermal department of the United Nations University. With government backing, Icelandic companies are exporting their expertise in geothermal to places as far-flung as Djibouti, China and southern California.
Photo credit: REGIERUNGonline / Fassbender
Germany's Angela Merkel
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is one of the few politicians left in the international arena who helped hammer out the original global warming agreement at Kyoto in 1997. Merkel's environmental leadership goes way back - she was named German environment minister in 1994. She has pushed Germany to raise renewable energy to 50% of the electricity portfolio by 2050. It's currently 12% - compare the United Kingdom's 3% - and is on track to be 20% by 2020.
Since January 2007, when Germany assumed the presidency of the European Union, Angela Merkel has prioritized climate change as a key issue for her administration. Merkel is spearheading the EU's bold energy plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.
In January, The Guardian named German Chancellor Angela Merkel as one of 50 people who could save the planet.
Still Germany is far from earning its stripes as a truly green nation. A recent study found that 10 of the top 30 worst polluting power plants in Europe are located in Germany.
Photo credit: clubwah.wordpress.com
Australia's Kevin Rudd
Australia still produces more than 80% of its electricity from coal, and its economy depends significantly on coal exports, which is a huge problem in a new green economic era. But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd won the election last year partly on a platform to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and by a margin so large the media called it a "Ruddslide." He then switched his predecessor's long aversion to the agreement and signed in last December.
Rudd is also trying to build up renewables, and set a target for all states to produce 20% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. We recently reported that South Australia has already reached the target ten years ahead of schedule.
However Rudd has also begun to push hard for clean coal, a disconcerting development for environmentalists. In September, Rudd made the rounds in New York looking for an Australia-based international program to ramp up research and development of clean-coal technology.
Rudd backs a clean coal strategy with three tenets: first, develop new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide in a more-concentrated stream. Second, capture the carbon dioxide and funnel it into pipes. Third, transport it to places where it can be injected underground for long-term storage.
According to the Wall Street Journal's Environmental Capital blog, Australia says it will commit up to 100 million Australian dollars a year toward a "global carbon capture and storage institute." His objective is to push hard on achieving a goal laid out this summer by the Group of Eight leading nations: Deploy some 20 industrial-scale carbon-capture coal plants by 2020.