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Climate Debate: Five Countries Making Green Changes

By Samantha-Rae Tuthill, AccuWeather.com Staff Writer
October 19, 2013; 3:19 AM ET

While issues of environmentalism, especially in response to climate changes or global warming, are often hotly contested across the United States, in other parts of the world its being built into national laws and economic policies.

These changes implemented abroad have had their own share of critics, however, and some U.S. economists are concerned about the costs of trying to enforce changes across a country that is as large and climatologically diverse and the States.

While many of the changes across Europe that have been put in place in recent years began in the '70s and '80s, the European Union (EU) signing up to the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 played a large role in how many of the continent's countries would change the framework of their environmental laws. The EU aims to have a 20 percent reduction in carbon emissions and a 20 percent share of renewable energy by the year 2020. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports have also factored in to the direct stance the EU takes on climate change.

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While climate change remains a controversial topic for many, there are benefits of "greening" economies, including decreasing carcinogenic air pollution and increasing certain job markets. There are also downsides to making these wide-spread changes, however, and each country that has made greening efforts has also faced opposing forces along the way from their politicians and citizens.

Here's a look at the way five countries have been trying to adapt their policies in response to environmental concerns:

1. Germany

In Germany, citizen participation in greening efforts played a key role in environmental efforts.

A green roof in Hamburg-Allermohe. Photo by SuSanA Secretariat.

A controversial tax energy reform added a gradual increase on oil taxes for the nation, which is considered to have aided in the country's decrease use of fossil fuels over the years. However, in order to increase taxes on oil without hurting commuters, widespread efforts to increase greener public transportation and bikeways were also implemented. Along with a steady decrease in the use of fossil fuels since the tax was put into place, Germany has also seen a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

By 2010, a shift in energy-related work forces had occurred, with more than 300,000 Germans working in renewable energy fields, such as biomass, wind and solar powers, more than 50,000 who worked in mining and power plant industries.

Other green efforts in Germany have included more environmentally-friendly and energy-sustainable changes to infrastructures, including better stormwater management and urban heat island amelioration through green roofs, which include gardens and other forms of vegetation on rooftops.

2. Iceland

Icelandic hot springs. Photo by kuddl-24.

One of the greatest assets in Iceland's greening efforts has been access to local, renewable energy sources. The country's small size, with fewer square miles of land than the state of Ohio, makes providing national access to resources easier. Geothermal energy has bolstered the renewable energy market in Iceland, with a whopping 66 percent of its energy sources provided by geothermal energy. National buses run on hydrogen batteries.

The country's goal is to be carbon and oil free by 2050.

3. Sweden

Sweden has also been taking measures to phase out the use of fossil fuels slowly in their country. This has been done, in part, by maximizing other resources. Sawdust leftover from trees in the lumber industry, for example, is formed into wood pellets to be sold to heat homes. These ultra-recycling efforts, along with an increased use of hydroelectrics and wind power, are pushing the nation to its 2020 goal of being fossil-fuel free.

Trees in Sweden have played a key role in eco-friendly developments. Photo by nilsz.

The Scandinavian nation also has access to geothermal and wind energies. Over 300,000 ground-source heat pumps are installed in homes and buildings across the country.

4. France

Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant in Basse Normandy. Photo by lilly3.

France is still in the early phases of moving towards a greener economy. Citizens are encouraged to take more renewable energy steps through tax breaks for homes that install solar panels. The country also has plans for increasing organic agriculture and the number of national nature reserves that occupy the land.

5. The United States of America

While measures have been taken for environmental legislations in the U.S., widespread measures across the country have not been implemented. While Germany has been able to increase sales taxes on automobiles and gasoline without adding a burden to the average household for transportation costs, Germans typically need to travel less than Americans on a regular basis. Implementing the same polices that work abroad on a domestic scale would require a good deal of reworking for these policies to apply.

America's size and diverse landscape also makes it harder to enact local renewable energy resources the way Iceland, for example, is able to. Wind energy is one way this issue is exemplified. In parts of the West, wind power has great potential for providing electricity, with the Department of Energy citing locations in Idaho, Colorado and Wyoming as having "outstanding" potential. Other locations, however, primarily in the Southeast, show poor potential to harness effective wind energy.

This map form the U.S. Department of Energy highlights where the strongest and weakest potentials for wind energy come from.

Controversy has also swirled among economic groups over the possible job losses compared to job creations in alternative energy sources. Oil and coal industry proponents fear that decreasing the use of these products would add to national unemployment levels, while renewable energy advocates tout the benefits of hiring workers to build and then run the infrastructures needed to utilize these energy sources.

As a result, most environmental efforts in the U.S. are done on state and not federal levels, though some national green policies, such as those laid out in the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, do exist.


Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Samantha-Rae Tuthill at tuthills@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Sam or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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