Carbon negative country: How can it be achieved?

Updated on
min reading
carbon negative country

The issue of climate change is one that is affecting every single one of us around the world. As global warming occurs, weather patterns are changing and events such as floods, hurricanes, and drought are becoming more frequent. Governments have made pledges to cut emissions and become carbon neutral by 2050, but is it possible to go one step further? In this article, we’ll look at what it means to be a carbon negative country - and give you some examples.

I stand up for real climate action, I offset my CO2 emissions!Global warming is everyone's business! To offset your CO2 emissions and participate in the energy transition.
Send us an e-mail

Carbon neutral and carbon negative: The differences

Much has been made of pledges from Governments around the world to drastically cut emissions in order to prevent a climate catastrophe. Indeed, the latest IPCC climate change report, published in 2021, highlighted the role humans are playing in climate change. Just after the report was published, many of the world’s leaders met at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in which they announced various measures they would put in place to stop more damage being done. Some of these measures included:

  • A pledge to end deforestation by 2030;
  • Promise to cut methane emissions;
  • Moving away from coal power;
  • Financial aid for emerging nations to tackle climate issues.

However, what does it mean to be carbon neutral? And what is the difference between that and carbon negative?

Carbon neutral means carbon emissions are balanced out via carbon offsetting actions elsewhere, meaning as much greenhouse gases are reduced as are emitted, leaving a neutral value. Companies, individuals, governments, and products and services can all achieve carbon neutrality. Carbon negative means more carbon dioxide (CO2) is saved or stored than emitted by a country, company or individual.

What does zero-carbon mean?Various terms have become more prominent in the public consciousness in recent years as we all become aware of the issues surrounding climate change and our need to do our part, such as recycling. Therefore, it is important to understand what each one means. Zero-carbon is when no carbon emissions are being produced from a product or service. An example could be a zero-carbon house, which is powered by solar energy or wind energy.

Which country is carbon negative?

While governments of major nations around the world are focusing on efforts to become carbon neutral, in 2021, one country stood alone as being the only carbon negative country: The Kingdom of Bhutan.

The south-central Asian nation, located on the edge of the Himalaya mountains between China and India, achieved this status after many years of hard work and introducing policy to ensure the environment stays at the forefront of any decision. Having a small population (750,000 people) has helped - although similar sized nations such as Luxembourg or the Maldives are yet to achieve carbon negative status.

Is Bhutan a carbon sink?More than 70% of the nation is covered by trees, and we know that trees play a key role in storing CO2. As a result of such high tree coverage, Bhutan is able to store millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide - more than it emits - meaning it is carbon negative.

But what did Bhutan do to achieve carbon negativity? The process began in 2009 at COP15 in Copenhagen, where leaders of many countries promised to reduce emissions. Seven years later, at COP21, Bhutan reiterated that promise and put in place measures to achieve that. Some of the things it has done include:

carbon sink
  • Placing a ban on all log exports;
  • Changing the constitution to ensure than tree coverage will never fall below 60%;
  • Providing free hydroelectric power by using the country's many rivers;
  • Providing rural farmers with free electricity.

The actions taken by the leaders of Bhutan show there is hope for other bigger nations if a collective effort is made. Indeed, now it has achieved carbon negativity, the country does not plan to stop. Plans are already in place for Bhutan to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions and produce zero waste by 2030.

A comprehensive plan is already in place that includes action such as:

  1. Increasing use of renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar and biogas;
  2. Planting more trees - in 2015, volunteers set a world record in Bhutan by planting 49,672 trees in just one hour;
  3. Collaborating with car maker, Nissan, to replace petrol and diesel cars with electric cars.

At a talk in 2016, the former Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay, urged other nations to follow in the country’s footsteps and make the changes necessary to reverse climate change. He said:

I invite you to help me, to carry this dream beyond our borders to all those who care about our planet’s future. After all, we’re here to dream together, to work together, to fight climate change together, to protect our planet together. Because the reality is, we are in it together.


How many carbon negative countries are there?

To date, there is just one other country that has joined Bhutan as being carbon negative, according to World Population Review: Suriname. The African nation, like Bhutan, is largely covered by trees, meaning it can absorb more CO2 than it emits. It also has the Atlantic Ocean to the north, meaning access to water resources and the potential to boost hydroelectric power.

There are other many other examples of nations taking the right steps and moving towards carbon negativity, including:

  • Tuvalu: The government is focused on a drive to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy. As an industrialised nation, if it achieves carbon negativity, there is a high chance it could remain like that;
  • Tonga: The Pacific Island nation is believed to be the next in line to achieve carbon negative status. In 2019, it emitted just 0.1 metric tonnes of CO2 and is taking action to be more sustainable in its three main industries: agriculture, fishing, and tourism;
  • Montserrat: This UK territory, located in the Caribbean, had the fifth lowest level of CO2 emissions worldwide in 2019.

Is Canada carbon negative?Canada is one of the major nations leading the way when it comes to climate change and has increased its targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. However, despite being a country with lots of forest areas, it is not carbon negative. According to Canadian broadcaster, CBC, Canada’s forests have not actually been a net carbon sink for around 20 years, thanks largely due to forest fires and insect infestations.

What is the UK doing to reduce emissions?

While there are examples of countries achieving carbon negative status, the UK is one of the many around the world working towards carbon neutrality. The Government is leading efforts and has announced a number of ways it will achieve that by 2050. The main ways it will do so are:

uk carbon neutral plan
  • Fully decarbonising the power sector by 2035, by investing in solar and wind power and encouraging homeowners to switch to green energy sources;
  • Investment in green public transport systems - including rail and bus service. Plans have also been announced to widely expand the cycle network - something of interest to those maybe thinking of investing in an electric bicycle;
  • Improving infrastructure including the installation of charging points across the country for owners of electric cars to use;
  • Restoring peatland and forests and creating more green spaces.

It is not just the public sector making changes though. Many private companies - large and small - in the UK are already carbon neutral and continuing their efforts on their journey to become carbon negative in the future. Some examples are SKY, Marks and Spencer, and Quorn. As well as taking measures to reduce waste and switch to renewable energy sources, they also work with partners on projects such as reforestation, removing plastic from the oceans, and other offsetting initiatives.

What can you do to reduce emissions?

To help with the collective target to reduce emissions and improve the environment around us and the planet as a whole, there are various changes we can all make in our daily lives to reduce the amount of emissions we contribute to. Examples of these include:

Waste management

  • Choose products with little packaging, especially plastic;
  • Reuse your shopping bags;
  • Reduce what you need; and reuse it as many times as you can, or recycle it when it reaches the end of its life cycle.

Energy use

  • Programme any energy devices you have so they are only in use while you are home;
  • Make sure you unplug devices such as mobile phones, and turn off your television rather than leave it on standby;
  • Switch to energy-saving lights such as LED - and turn them off when you don’t need them.


  • Reduce the amount of meat you eat;
  • Eat locally sourced and produced food;
  • Recycle or compost and organic waste you produce.


  • Choose to walk, cycle or use public transport instead of using your car;
  • Share a car ride with others if you need to use your car - such as taking colleagues to work if you go to the same office;
  • Avoid flying if possible as it is one of the world’s fastest-growing sources of CO2 emissions. Assess whether it is possible to make the journey by train or boat instead.

Read more of our guides on how to reduce your carbon footprint and help combat climate change.