Wednesday, January 23, 2008

2008 Index Ranks Countries Environmental Performance: U.S. 39th

Jan 23: Switzerland tops the global list of countries ranked by environmental performance according to the 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) produced by a team of environmental experts at Yale University and Columbia University. The 2008 EPI, was released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and ranks 149 countries on 25 indicators tracked across six established policy categories: Environmental Health, Air Pollution, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive Natural Resources, and Climate Change. The EPI identifies broadly-accepted targets for environmental performance and measures how close each country comes to these goals. As a quantitative gauge of pollution control and natural resource management results, the Index provides a powerful tool for improving policymaking and shifting environmental decisionmaking onto firmer analytic foundations.

The 2008 EPI ranks Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Costa Rica two to five, respectively. Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Angola, and Niger occupy the bottom five positions. The United States placed 39th in the rankings, significantly behind other industrialized nations like the United Kingdom (14th) and Japan (21st). The United States ranked 11th in the Americas, and 22 members of the European Union outrank the United States. According to a release, the U.S. score reflects top-tier performance in several indicators, including provision of safe drinking water, sanitation, and forest management. But poor scores on greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of air pollution on ecosystems dragged down the overall U.S. rank. Other major countries ranked as follows: China 104; Russia 28; India 120; Mexico 14.

Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies said, “The United States’ performance indicates that the next administration must not ignore the ecosystem impacts of environmental as well as agricultural, energy and water management policies. The EPI’s climate change metrics ranking the United States alongside India and China near the bottom of the world’s table are a national disgrace.”

The Index also provides “peer group” rankings for each country showing how its performance stacks up against others facing similar environmental challenges. These benchmarks allow easy tracking of leaders and laggards on an issue-by-issue and aggregate basis. The data also support efforts to identify “best practices” in the environmental realm.

Analysis of the drivers underlying the 2008 rankings suggests that wealth is a major determinant of environmental success. At every level of development, however, some countries achieve results that far exceed their peers, demonstrating that policy choices also affect performance. For example, Costa Rica (5th), known for its substantial environmental efforts, significantly outperforms its neighbor Nicaragua (77th). Nicaragua’s history of poor governance and political corruption, violent conflicts, and budgets skewed towards the military instead of environmental infrastructure no doubt adds to the disparity. Top-ranked countries have all invested in water and air pollution control and other elements of environmental infrastructure and have adopted policy measures to mitigate the pollution harms caused by economic activities. Low-ranked countries typically have not made investments in environmental public health and have weak policy regimes.

Project leaders say the Environmental Performance Index aims to promote data-driven and analytically rigorous environmental decisionmaking by using the best global datasets available. Yet, they say, serious data gaps limit the ability to measure performance on a number of important issues, and the overall data quality and availability for some countries are poor. Incomplete data excluded 89 countries from the 2008 EPI. The absence of broadly collected and methodologically consistent indicators for even the most basic issues such as water quality -- and the complete lack of time-series data for most countries -- hampers efforts to shift pollution control and natural resource management onto more empirical foundations. Marc Levy, Deputy Director of Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network and one of the EPI project leaders said, “At a time when so much scientific evidence is telling us that the Earth's ecosystems are in crisis, it is inexcusable that our collective investment in environmental monitoring is so low. For some critical issues such as water it is actually decreasing. When a hospital patient's health worsens, doctors increase their monitoring, and we need to do the same for the planet.”

Access a release from Yale University (
click here). Access the Summary for Policymakers (click here). Access the EPI website for complete information (click here). [*All]