U.S. Lagging on Environment

Switzerland leads the world in environmental commitment according to a new study.

A new analysis released by researchers from Yale and Columbia Universities last week found that the United States ranked 39th of 149 countries studied on the basis of overall environmental performance. Switzerland, with lots of open space and forward-thinking environmental policies, took the top honors, followed by Sweden, Norway, Finland and Costa Rica. Twenty-two member countries of the European Union outranked the U.S., as did several other industrialized nations like Japan (which finished 21st). Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Angola and Niger were at the bottom of the list, although 89 other countries were excluded due to incomplete data.

"Every country has something to learn from the 2008 Environmental Performance Index," says Daniel Esty of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. "Even the top-ranked countries underperform on some issues."

To come up with the EPI rankings—the second such version of the report in as many years—the researchers studied 25 different indicators across six established policy categories (Environmental Health, Air Pollution, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive Natural Resources and Climate Change). They also took into account how closely each nation came to achieving various broadly accepted targets for environmental performance.

The U.S. lost some ground since the previous version of the report in 2006 (when it ranked 28th overall). "[T]hough very high in the Environmental Health score, [theU.S.] ranked 107th in the Ecosystem Vitality category, below countries like Sudan and Myanmar, which have significant non-environmental challenges and limited resources for environmental protection," said the researchers last week. "Poor performance in the areas of air emissions and climate change reduced the U.S. score significantly," they added.

Sources: Yale; MSNBC