Got the Eco-Travel Bug? Here Are 10 Countries Leading the Climate Fight to Visit Right Now

Already dreaming about your travel plans for 2018? You’re not alone. Americans spent more than $683 billion on travel last year, and the tourism industry accounts for more than 10 percent of global GDP. All of that cash flow presents the perfect opportunity to vote with your dollar by supporting governments with sensible climate policies that lay a positive path for an uncertain future.

Despite the Trump administration’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, other countries are moving full-steam ahead. To paint a full picture, the NGOs Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe (CAN) assess the 58 top-emitting countries based on climate policies, current and projected emissions, renewable energy deployment, and more, and publish their findings in the annual Climate Change Performance Index.

Global governments still have a long way to go—the NGOs note “no country has yet done enough to prevent the dangerous impacts of climate change”—but the CCPI results improve every year. We used the 2017 index as a reference to compile our list of climate-friendly destinations, and we’ll break down what each of these countries are doing to fight global temperature rise—along with some cool stuff to do while you’re there.

1. France

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Host of the historic COP21 climate negotiations, Paris offers something new with every visit. (credit:

Why it rocks: Under the Paris agreement, all members of the European Union pledged to decrease emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030, compared to a 1990 baseline. But France stands out among the pack for its rising role as an international leader on climate action.

Since hosting the COP21 climate talks in 2015, where diplomats crafted the Paris agreement, France continued to facilitate the climate conversation around the world. The U.S. and China reached a landmark agreement to tackle climate change last year, but as the political winds shifted in Washington, France stepped up to work with the rising power to limit emissions. It’s also a leading financial backer of climate mitigation in the developing world through the Green Climate Fund and plans to host another international climate conference later this year.

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With its winding canals and picturesque streets, Annecy is known as the “Venice of France.” (credit: Jonas Smith/Flickr)

Where to go: The glittering lights of Paris are only the beginning. As a tourist destination, France offers something for everyone. Soak up the sun in the Riviera. Sip your way through the wine-growing regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. Or catch stunning mountain vistas in Alpine towns like Chamonix.

Hidden gem: The Alpine city of Annecy is also known as the “Venice of France,” thanks to its winding canals and charming car-free streets. As an added eco-bonus, you’d be hard-pressed to find a chain restaurant, hotel or tour operator—meaning all of your tourism dollars go back into the local economy.

2. Sweden

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Stockholm, Sweden. (credit: Marco Lazzaroni/Flickr)

Why it rocks: Sweden moved up to fifth place in this year’s CCPI ranking, thanks to a relatively low emissions level and low carbon intensity in its energy supply. The Scandinavian country plans to further reduce its impact by transitioning to 100 percent clean power by 2040 and eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. "Our target is to be an entirely fossil-fuel-free welfare state," Climate Minister Isabella Lovin told the Independent, while noting that Sweden’s actions will not be swayed by political uncertainty in the U.S.

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Drottningholm Palace on the island of Lovö, Sweden. (credit: Richard Mortel/Flickr)

Where to go: Sweden’s capital, Stockholm, is an archipelago of 14 interconnected islands that should ideally be explored by boat. It attracts millions of visitors each year, but it’s far from all Sweden has to offer. Take a ferry to fairytale-ready Drottningholm Palace on the island of Lovö, or explore the Dutch-style canals of Gothenbur, or take a trip back in time in the Viking-era ruins of Sigtuna, Sweden’s oldest city.  

Hidden gem: Jokkmokk is located above the Arctic Circle in Northern Sweden and is home to the indigenous Sami people. With thousands of hiking trails through UNESCO-recognized wilderness and a small town with restaurants, pubs and shops selling Sami handicrafts, it’s a spectacular trip for adventurers willing to bear the cold.

3. Morocco

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Ben Youssef Madrasa is one of countless architectural gems in Marrakech, Morocco. (credit: Benh LIEU SONG/Flickr)

Why it rocks: Morocco is the only non-EU country to score a spot in the CCPI top 10, and its standing continues to improve. After hosting the COP22 climate talks last year, Morocco is eying significant renewable energy development to shrink its already low per-capita emissions. Nearly 35 percent of Morocco’s energy came from renewables in 2015, a figure it plans to increase to 52 percent by 2030—all while bringing grid-connected energy to more citizens.

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Blue hues and charming streetscapes characterize Morocco’s capital city of Rabat. (credit: Badder Manaouch/Unsplash)

Where to go: Miles of Mediterranean coastline make this North African nation a must-see for any world traveler. Stroll through the storied city of Casablanca. Get lost in the Marrakech medina. Disconnect in the capital city of Rabat and its tranquil Oudaias Kasbah. Or get off the beaten path with a camel trek to culture-rich Fes.

Hidden gem: In the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, Demnate is one of the oldest cities in Morocco. Soak in authentic culture in the city, or venture into the wilderness to see ancient dinosaur tracks, natural stone arches and wildlife.

4. India

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India is more than the Taj Mahal. (credit: Louis Vest/Flickr)

Why it rocks: Once heavily dependent on coal, India’s government now runs “one of the largest renewable capacity expansion programs in the world,” according to Germanwatch and CAN. The South Asian nation plans to deploy 100 gigawatts of clean power by 2020 and 175 gigawatts by 2022 — all while bringing grid-connected energy to millions who still go without.

India’s future coal demand could actually be near flat,” Tim Buckley, the Asia energy finance director for the Cleveland-based Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told the Australian newspaper. “The technology-driven changes are happening faster than predicted.”

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Known as the Pink City, Jaipur and its stunning architecture are a must-see. (credit: Justin Gaurav Murgai/Flickr

Where to go: With over 1.2 million square miles, it’s hard to choose only a few must-see Indian destinations. Agra and the Taj Mahal top many a bucket list, but India’s diverse landscapes and rich cultural history beckon travelers to ditch the lines and live like a local. Be amazed by the ancient architecture in the Pink City of Jaipur. Visit the southern city of Hampi and tour one of the country’s oldest functioning Hindu temples. Or embrace the desert life in Jaisalmer, a former medieval trading center near the Pakistan border.

Hidden gem: The central Indian city of Maheshwar is home to ancient temples and a tranquil setting to match. Here you’ll immerse yourself in the history and architecture without a queue in sight.

5. Mexico

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Mountain towns like San José del Pacífico scatter Mexico’s Oaxaca mountain region. (credit: Arnaud B./Flickr)

Why it rocks: Although still considered a “moderate” performer, Mexico comes in at a respectable 28th on the CCPI—good for the best score in Latin America. Mexico was the first developing country to pass comprehensive climate legislation in 2012, and it was also one of the first Latin American countries to contribute to the Green Climate Fund. Under the Paris agreement, Mexico pledged to peak its emission by 2026 and halve emissions by 2050.

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Well-preserved Mayan ruins and majestic waterfalls make Chiapas an adventure traveler’s dream. (credit: CarlosVanVegas/Flickr)

Where to go: Millions of beach-goers flock to resort towns like Cancún and Cabo San Lucas, but Mexico is also a burgeoning hotspot for eco-tourism, which is ideal for those looking to get off the beaten path. Waterfalls, jungle landscapes and historic Mayan ruins make the Chiapas region an adventure traveler’s dream, while Oaxaca’s stunning mountains continue to be a favorite for hikers. For a classic Mexican vacay with an eco twist, take in the beaches of Baja California while learning about local marine life.  

Hidden gem: The colonial city of Queretaro, which today is mostly forgotten by tourists, treats travelers to a vibrant dining and nightlife scene without the crowds.

6. South Africa

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Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town, South Africa. (credit: Erin Johnson/Flickr)

Why it rocks: South Africa climbed an impressive 16 places in the most recent CCPI, and Germanwatch and CAN noted its “great efforts in the fields of renewables and energy efficiency” as exemplary among developing nations. South Africa hopes to peak its emissions between 2020 and 2025—representing a 34 percent cut in carbon output compared to a business-as-usual scenario. It’s also looking to triple its renewable energy deployment over the next three years.

“In the rest of Africa, interest in renewables is accelerating,” Jasandra Nyker, CEO of BioTherm Energy, a South African solar and wind power producer, told the Washington Post. “Hopefully they will take a look at the success Eskom [South Africa’s public utility] has had here.”

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The Garden Route treats trekkers to lush mountains, waterfalls and sprawling coastal scenery. (credit: Matt Francey/Flickr)

Where to go: Come for the sprawling shorelines of Cape Town or the rich culture of Johannesburg, stay for the untouched landscapes and roving wildlife. Travelers looking to get out of the city can hike the Garden Route for nearly 125 miles of spectacular coastal scenery, or visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park for a view of the otherworldly “Dragon Mountains.” And those craving the classic safari experience have several eco-friendly options to choose from.

Hidden gem: Established in 2000, Kalahari Gemsbok National Park is Africa’s first officially declared transfrontier park—spanning from a remote region of northern South Africa into Botswana and its sister Gemsbok National Park. Although somewhat off the beaten path, the park is one of the largest wilderness areas in the world and is the perfect location for visitors looking to see wildlife in its natural habitat or continue their journey into neighboring Botswana.

7. Portugal

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Beautiful and budget-friendly, Lisbon has something for everyone. (credit: mgkm photography/Flickr)

Why it rocks: Portugal made steady gains on this year’s CCPI, thanks to its increasingly ambitious climate policies and already low per-capita emissions. The country made headlines last year for operating entirely on clean power for four days straight, and it now sources renewables for 48 percent of its power needs—a figure it hopes to dramatically increase. “What seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years,” James Watson, CEO of SolarPower Europe, said of Portugal’s achievement.

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The Azores islands are home to stunning biodiversity and outdoor activities galore. (credit: Enric R bio Ros/Flickr)

Where to go: Lisbon and Porto offer everything you’d expect from coastal European cities at a fraction of the price. For the road less traveled, visit the walled city of Obidos, tour Roman ruins in Evora or meander the canaled streets of Aveiro.

Hidden gem: If adventure tourism is your game, look no further than the Azores, a chain of islands halfway between New York City and Lisbon. You may have seen it mentioned on a top-10 list or two, but the islands are still relatively unknown to North American travelers and offer crowd-free access to natural treasures, from red deserts and lush mountains to semi-submerged caves.

8. Latvia

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Latvia’s capital city, Riga, offers all the charm you’d expect from a major European city without the crowds and for a fraction of the price. (credit: Bryan Ledgard/Flickr)

Why it rocks: Latvia may be small—its population is roughly half that of Los Angeles—but this Baltic nation is charging ahead with renewable energy development. The country now obtains nearly 38 percent of its energy from renewable sources, which is tantalizingly close to its 2020 goal and good for the third highest percentage in the EU. It also made major gains in energy efficiency over the past year, according to the CCPI.

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Visit Jurmala during the warmer months for an unconventional beach vacation on the Baltic Sea. (credit: Bryan Ledgard/Flickr)

Where to go: Latvia is generally forgotten by tourists—making it easier for adventurous travelers to shed the packaged tours and choking crowds. You’ll find big-city appeal in the capital of Riga, but postcard-ready beaches and densely forested national parks are Latvia’s crown jewel. Soak up sun and beach views in coastal towns like Jurmala, Ventspils and Cape Kolka. Or get back to nature by exploring the caverns and forests of Gauja National Park.

Hidden gem: Nicknamed the Switzerland of Latvia for its picturesque landscapes, Sigulda is home to centuries-old architecture and a system of natural sandstone caves containing ancient carvings. It’s also Latvia’s top destination for adventure activities, such as bungee jumping and bobsledding.  

9. Denmark

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Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen remains one of Europe’s hottest attractions. (credit: Blue Skyz Miami/Flickr)

Why it rocks: Denmark topped the CCPI for five years in a row before dipping to the 13th slot this year. The Scandinavian nation now gets around half of its energy from renewables and is on target to achieve 100 percent clean power by 2050.

Climate experts are concerned that Denmark’s new government could threaten the ambition of its climate policies, according to the CCPI, but market forces seem to have already taken over: Denmark is home to the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer and the world’s largest offshore wind operator—and these companies are reportedly eying offshore wind development in the Baltic Sea, along with Baltic nations such as Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

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In Hobro, Denmark, you can walk on a miniaturized map of the world. Above, a small version of the African continent. (image: Frank Vincentz/CC BY-SA 3.0 via Atlas Obscura)

Where to go: In Copenhagen, history blends with a vibrant, youthful art culture and an up-and-coming food scene. Less than an hour away, visitors can check out Kronborg Castle, the setting of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” and other fine architecture in charming Helsingør. And islands like the Bornholm and Amager beckon curious travelers off the beaten path.  

Hidden gem: In Hobro, a small old market town in northern Denmark, you can circumnavigate the globe—well, a miniaturized version at least. Verdenskortet (Map of the World) is the work of one man, Søren Poulsen, who started the project in 1944 with just a few simple tools, working on it until his death in 1969 at the age of 81. The map measures about 150 by 300 feet, and was constructed entirely to scale. Visitors can enjoy a game of minigolf along the world's coasts or take a paddleboat for a ride across the miniature Pacific Ocean.

10. United Kingdom

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Look beyond London for a unique U.K. travel experience. (credit: Eva DangUnsplash)

Why it rocks: The U.K. comes in close behind France at the top of the 2017 CCPI, but experts note that most of the country’s gains can be tracked to “policy from 5 to 10 years ago” and warn its current government may hinder progress.

That said, the U.K. pledged to completely phase out coal by 2025 or earlier and continues to bolster its power supply with offshore wind — which could bring over US$23 billion to the British economy over the next four years. Richard Harrington, minister for energy and industry, said investment in offshore wind “will help the U.K. meet its climate targets while supporting jobs in Britain’s growing renewable industry.”

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Take in the stunning scenery on Scotland’s Isle of Skye. (credit: Christopher Martin/Flickr)

Where to go: In England, venture outside the bustling capital of London to check out the architecture of Bath and the musical history of Liverpool. In Scotland, the urban center of Glasgow offers a faster pace, while the island of Skye lets visitors disconnect and take in the scenery.

Keep in mind that air travel isn't climate-friendly and makes up a major part of our carbon footprints. But you can reduce your impact by choosing coach (it's less carbon-intensive than first- or business class), select an efficient airline (check Atmosfair’s airline ranking) and consider reducing your air travel carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets, which most domestic airlines and many international carriers offer.

Have any recommendations for a trip to a climate-friendly place? Share them in the comments.

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