In an effort to better define the Environmental goals of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, the Environmental Performance Index was released ranking 133 countries. With New Zealand leading the index, Europe follows with Sweden, Finland, The Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Austria, Denmark and Ireland all in the top ten. Canada’s environmental efforts put it at number 6 and the only Asian country in the top ten, Malaysia, ranked 9th. Far below the European nations, as well as Japan and several South American countries is the United States ranking 28th.
The full EPI report indicates the index can serve as a tool of comparative studies showing why some countries perform better than others and what the lowest ranking countries are in need of. Data on regions in much of Africa and countries like Pakistan and Yemen reflect the lowest ranking countries, but also that those countries lack statistics. One factor evident is that in the top performing regions of Europe, Canada, and New Zealand with Australia (ranking 18th), “good governance appears highly correlated with environmental success”, according to the full report.
As environmental factors become more important in determining a country’s economic future, the U.S. can be hopeful next to other top economies such as China, which ranked 94th and India at 118th. The index is not necessarily a competitive system, but an analytical data collection developed for the World Economic Forum held in Davos Switzerland. What this ranking could mean for the U.S. is, as Dean of the Yale School of Environmental Studies, Gus Speth said, “a wake up call to the American public and particularly to leaders in Washington.”
A country’s index is calculated by 16 indicators grouped into 6 categories including; Environmental Health, Air Quality, Water Resources, Productive Natural Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat and Sustainable Energy. Where the United States performed particularly low is in the Clean Air and Productive Natural Resources categories, but also in Water resources, which includes over consumption and nitrogen deposition caused by agricultural.
What kept the U.S. close to the upper tier is its Environmental Health, which mostly concerns public health efforts in low child Mortality, indoor air pollution, safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. The largest pollutant that largely counters these health efforts in the U.S. is found in air pollution in the large cities. Air pollution is largely caused by emissions from power plants and this aspect of the report reinforces tensions between signers of the Kyoto Protocol and President Bush’s continuing refusal to sign the agreement. There is also recently released evidence on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, making these aspects of U.S. performance increasingly relevant. Something the President hopes to assuage in his recent promoting of renewable energies.
The EPI was developed and compiled by a team at the Environment School at Yale University and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, with contributions from the European Commission and The World Economic Forum. The Full report is available on-line at www.yale.edu/epi.