New Zealand Tops World Environmental Rankings

DAVOS, Switzerland, January 25, 2006 (ENS) - New Zealand ranks first in the world in environmental performance, according to the Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) produced by a team of environmental experts at the environment school at Yale University and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. The United States placed 28th in the rankings.

The 2006 EPI, to be released in Davos at the World Economic Forum that opened today, ranks Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom two to five respectively.

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New Zealand's Lake Brunner (Photo courtesy NZ Travel Index)
The Index identifies targets for environmental performance and measures how close each country comes to these goals. It ranks 133 countries on 16 indicators tracked in six policy categories - Environmental Health, Air Quality, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive Natural Resources, and Sustainable Energy.

The top-ranked countries all commit significant resources and effort to environmental protection, resulting in strong performance across most of the policy categories.

The Index 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 countries on an issue-by-issue and aggregate basis. The data also supports effort to identify "best practices" in the environmental realm.

The United States placed 28th in the rankings - below other developed nations like the United Kingdom and Canada, which ranked eighth.

The authors say the U.S. score reflects good performance on environmental health issues, but indicates that the United States is under-performing on renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and water resources.

"The lagging performance of the United States on environmental issues – particularly on energy and climate change – signals trouble not only for the American people, but for the whole world," said Gus Speth, dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. "Perhaps this ranking will serve as a wake up call to the American public and particularly to leaders in Washington."

The EPI centers on two broad objectives - reducing environmental stresses on human health and protecting ecosystem vitality.

The 16 indicators used to rank nations are: child mortality, indoor air pollution, drinking water, adequate sanitation, urban particulates, regional ozone, nitrogen loading, water consumption, wilderness protection, ecoregion protection, timber harvest rate, agricultural subsidies, overfishing, energy efficiency, renewable energy, and CO2 per Gross Domestic Product.

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Lake Mead in Nevada, created by the Hoover Dam, is a water source for nearly 25 million people including the city of Las Vegas. Drought has reduced lake levels since 2000. (Photo courtesy NASA)
Derived from a review of the environmental literature, these goals mirror the priorities expressed by policymakers, including the environmental dimension of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

The lowest-ranked countries - Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Chad and Niger - are underdeveloped nations with weak regulatory systems and with little capacity to invest in environmental infrastructure such as drinking water and sanitation systems.

The 2006 EPI demonstrates that wealth and a country’s level of economic development determine of environmental outcomes to some degree.

Still, the authors say, at every level of development, some countries achieve environmental results that far exceed their peers, showing that policy choices also affect performance. For example, the Dominican Republic, ranked 54th, more than doubles Haiti's rank at 114th, even though the countries share an island. Similarly, Sweden, ranked second, produces much better environmental results than Belgium, ranked 39th.

"Policy choices matter," said Daniel Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy. "Good governance emerges as a critical driver of environmental performance."

Nations at all levels of economic development face critical environmental challenges, the EPA shows. Industrialized countries often suffer from pollution and degraded ecosystems. Developing countries must confront the additional challenge of needing to manage environmental health stresses such as water-borne diseases and indoor air pollution.

The Environmental Performance Index aims to promote "data-driven and analytically rigorous environmental decision making," the authors say. Yet, serious data gaps limit the ability to measure performance on a number of important issues.

Incomplete data excluded 60 countries from the 2006 EPI.

"A more empirically grounded, fact-based approach to environmental policymaking will require investments in data collection on a global level," observed Esty.

"In spite of data gaps, methodological limitations, and serious scientific uncertainties, the Environmental Performance Index demonstrates that environmental policy results can be tracked with the same outcome-oriented and performance-based rigor that applies to poverty reduction, education, health promotion," said Marc Levy, associate director for science applications at the Columbia Center for International Earth Science Information Network.

"The ability to evaluate policy results is critical in the context of initiatives under the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to expand investments in environmental sustainability," he said.

The EPI was conducted in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

The full report is available at: http://www.yale.edu/epi