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  • Writer's pictureSteffan Willis

The Green Paradox: How Wealth and Innovation Intersect in the Global Quest for Sustainability

Despite the progress made by some countries in moving toward a greener future, the correlation between wealth and a nation's ability to define its low-carbon future reveals an uncomfortable truth. However, developing nations such as Argentina and Indonesia show that commitment to sustainability is not limited to high-income countries.


The MIT Technology Review Insights' Green Future Index (GFI) 2023 recently unveiled its third annual ranking of 76 nations and territories, showcasing their progress towards developing a sustainable, low-carbon future.

The GFI report, a crucial tool for understanding the driving forces behind a nation's green transition, raises an uncomfortable truth: wealth plays a significant role in a country's ability to define its low-carbon future. This article explores the wealth-sustainability nexus, how developing countries like Argentina and Indonesia are overcoming economic constraints to achieve significant progress, and the strategies to bridge the wealth gap in sustainability efforts.

The Wealth-Sustainability Nexus

In examining the correlation between GDP per capita and GFI rankings, it becomes evident that wealthier countries generally fare better in moving towards a green future. Many high-income countries, including Iceland, South Korea, and most of Europe, dominate the top 10 positions in the GFI rankings. Conversely, emerging economies struggle to implement sustainable policies effectively.

This phenomenon aligns with the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) hypothesis, an economic theory suggesting that as a country's economy grows, environmental degradation initially increases, followed by a decrease once a certain level of income per capita is reached. The EKC implies that wealthier nations have the financial means to invest in cleaner technologies and implement strict environmental policies, while emerging economies prioritize economic growth over environmental concerns.

However, it is essential to consider that developed economies have often outsourced their carbon-intensive industries and manufacturing processes to emerging economies, sometimes called 'carbon leakage'.

This practice allows wealthier nations to reduce their domestic carbon emissions while still benefiting from the consumption of carbon-intensive goods produced elsewhere. As a result, emerging economies bear the environmental burden of producing goods for global consumption, while developed nations continue to enjoy the benefits of these products without directly contributing to their associated emissions. This dynamic can lead to an unequal distribution of the environmental impact of global consumption and can distort the perception of a nation's commitment to sustainability.

The wealth-sustainability nexus underscores the importance of understanding the factors influencing a nation's green transition and the need to address wealth disparities and the outsourcing of carbon-intensive industries to foster a more equitable global transition to sustainability.

Breaking the Wealth Barrier: Case Studies of Argentina and Indonesia

Despite the challenges posed by their economic status, Argentina and Indonesia have made considerable strides in their green transition, defying conventional wisdom and climbing significantly in the GFI 2023 rankings. Both countries improved their scores by focusing on a single pillar of the index: Argentina bolstered its green society score, while Indonesia improved its carbon emissions score.

In Argentina, the government has implemented numerous initiatives to promote renewable energy, including the RenovAr program, which provides financial incentives for renewable energy projects. Additionally, Argentina has encouraged sustainable agricultural practices and invested in preserving its natural ecosystems, such as wetlands and forests.

Indonesia, on the other hand, has taken bold steps to reduce its carbon emissions by transitioning from coal to renewable energy sources. The government's ambitious plan to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2040 and increase the share of renewables in the energy mix demonstrates its commitment to a greener future. Furthermore, Indonesia has implemented measures to curb deforestation, a leading contributor to its carbon emissions.

Both Argentina and Indonesia exemplify how developing nations can overcome the wealth barrier and make significant progress in the green transition. Their achievements challenge the notion that wealth is the sole determinant of a country's ability to move towards a sustainable future.

Strategies for Bridging the Wealth Gap in Sustainability Efforts

To foster a more equitable global transition to a green future, several strategies are needed to support emerging economies in their sustainability efforts:

Policy-focused business incentives

Australia's example showcases the power of policy in driving the green transition. By implementing policy-focused business incentives, such as tax breaks and grants for renewable energy projects, Australia managed to jump 10 places in the GFI 2023 rankings to 42nd place. This strategy can be replicated in other emerging economies to stimulate green growth.

Collaborative international efforts:

Developed countries can support emerging economies by sharing technology, expertise, and best practices to accelerate their green transition. Initiatives such as the Green Climate Fund, which provides financial support for developing nations to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts, exemplify how global cooperation can drive sustainable development.

Innovative financial mechanisms and partnerships

Public-private partnerships and innovative financial mechanisms, such as green bonds and blended finance, can mobilize private capital to fund sustainable projects in emerging economies. These instruments can help address the funding gap and reduce the financial risks associated with green investments.

Capacity building and education

Strengthening human capital is essential for the successful implementation of sustainable policies in developing countries. Developed nations can support capacity building in emerging economies by providing education, training, and technical assistance to foster a skilled workforce capable of driving the green transition.

Regional cooperation and integration

Regional collaboration can promote the sharing of resources, technology, and expertise among countries with similar economic and environmental challenges. For example, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has established various initiatives to promote sustainable development and renewable energy within the region, benefiting its member countries, including Indonesia.


The Green Future Index 2023 shines a light on the complex relationship between wealth and sustainability, revealing that while economic prosperity is a key factor in a nation's ability to transition to a greener future, it is not the sole determinant. Developing countries like Argentina and Indonesia have demonstrated that commitment to sustainability can transcend economic barriers, challenging conventional wisdom.

To ensure a more equitable global transition to a sustainable future, it is crucial to foster global collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and innovative strategies that support emerging economies in transitioning to a greener future. Continued research, monitoring, and dialogue are indispensable in driving meaningful change, paving the way for a sustainable and inclusive global future.

In the words of environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, "In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now."

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