The Global View

Most large economies lag in 2010 world environmental rankings

EPI MapIt’s not easy grading 163 countries on how each handles a variety of environmental challenges, but a team of experts working with the best information they could find has come out with a new global report card: the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

The planet’s star performers? Iceland is number one, followed by Switzerland, Costa Rica and Sweden. The countries with the worst environmental records are, unsurprisingly, also some of the poorest: Angola, Mauritania, the Central African Republic and — coming in dead last at 163rd place — Sierra Leone.

Other countries’ rankings: Norway, 5th; France, 7th; Austria, 8th; Cuba, 9th; the UK, 14th; Germany, 17th; the US, 61st; and Russia, 69th. (The report card’s authors note that, “The United States’ ranking does not reflect the recent policy activities of the Obama Administration, as the 2010 EPI builds on data from before 2009.)

Prepared every two years by experts at Yale University and Columbia University, the EPI was released today at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

The index is based on each country’s performance in 10 primary areas: environmental burden of disease, water resources for human health, air quality for human health, air quality for ecosystems, water resources for ecosystems, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and climate change.

In gathering data for each of those areas, the EPI team made some interesting findings:

  • “Most of the world’s largest economies find themselves lagging behind the top performers. The US (63.5) is ranked at 61 … penalised mostly for poor performance on the Climate Change and Air Pollution (effects on ecosystems) policy categories. Better, but also not among the top 10 are Germany (73.2, rank 17) and Japan (72.5, rank 20). Again, the problem areas for these countries are environmental air quality, climate change, and — in the case of Germany — fisheries management.”
  • “Countries that scored well in Ecosystem Vitality often did so for very different reasons. Of the two countries with the best objective scores, Iceland’s performance can primarily be attributed to good environmental management and a low-carbon economy. Nepal’s high score, however, arises from limited development
    and lower environmental stresses on the land, air, and water.”
  • “The trend data for access to improved water supplies show generally positive results, with 97 countries raising their Access to Drinking Water coverage, and four countries (Cambodia, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, and Chad) more than doubling their access. Fifty-five countries saw improvements in coverage of 10 per cent or more.”
  • “In terms of large industrialised countries, the United States has seen a 24 per cent increase in Industrial Carbon Intensity, whereas China has seen an increase of only 3.1 per cent. China’s industrial production has skyrocketed since 1990, and it appears that efficiency has largely kept pace, perhaps because of China’s massive investment in energy-saving technology. Germany and Russia both saw significant improvements in efficiency of 20 per cent and 7.9 per cent, respectively. In the first instance, Germany has invested heavily in more efficient production methods, and in the other many inefficient Communist era factories have been shut down.”

Finally, Marc Levy, deputy director of Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network and one of the EPI project leaders, noted, “For some critical issues such as water, international investments have actually decreased in recent years.”