Results are in from the Yale-based 2016 Environmental Performance Index, which ranks 180 countries on how they protect ecosystems and human health.
We humans are making a mess of the planet and it's up to us to make good – there's no planet nanny who is going to come in and tidy up for us. And we seem to be inching along toward realizing this – more and more governments are taking notice and last year's Climate Change Conference in Paris resulted in a landmark 195 nations committing to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. Basically, it will take a village to save the world.
To that end, researchers at Yale and Columbia universities along with the World Economic Forum have been creating the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) biennially for the last 15 years. The report provides a global ranking of environmental performance for 180 countries and measures how they do to protect ecosystems and human health. The goal is to provide a practical tool for policymakers to better understand and improve how their countries are performing when it comes to issues of the environment.
The latest iteration, the 2016 report, finds that there have been global improvements in climate and energy, health impacts and water and sanitation – which is great news. Across the globe, focused efforts to develop clean drinking water and sewage infrastructure have dramatically reduced deaths from waterborne diseases. It's pretty remarkable; since 2000 the number of people who lack access to clean water has been cut nearly in half from over one billion to 550 million. And while that's still too many, the progress is heartening. There has also been improved emphasis on habitat protection, and many nations are now within "striking distance" of international targets for terrestrial and marine habitat protection, according to the report.
On the other hand, the global community has a lot of work to do in other areas. According to a Yale news article on the report, 23 percent of countries have zero wastewater treatment. The world's fisheries are in a desperate state, with most fish stocks "at risk of collapse." And air pollution has become so bad that it is now to blame for 10 percent of all deaths (as compared with two percent due to unsanitary water). An astonishing statistic: More than 3.5 billion people – half of the people on the planet – live in countries with unsafe levels of air pollution.
"While many environmental problems are the result of industrialization, our findings show that both poor and wealthy nations suffer from serious air pollution," says Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS College and the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and lead author of the report. "The EPI shows that focused, coordinated global efforts are essential to make progress on global goals and to save lives."
Winning the shiny prize for first place is Finland (pictured at the top) with a score of 90.68; the country earned impressive marks in the metrics of Health Impacts, Water and Sanitation, and Biodiversity and Habitat. You can click over to this page to see details on each country's score and performance. Here are the top 10 by score:
1. Finland (90.68)
2. Iceland (90.51)
3. Sweden (90.43)
4. Denmark (89.21)
5. Slovenia (88.98)
6. Spain (88.91)
7. Portugal (88.63)
8. Estonia (88.59)
9. Malta (88.48)
10. France (88.20)
The United States came in at number 26 with a score of 84.72. The U.S. did well with Water and Sanitation and Health Impacts, but didn't do so great in Fisheries ... and tanked in the area of Forests. (Insert frown emoji here.)
"The EPI sends a clear signal to policymakers on the state of their environment and equips them with the data to develop fine-tuned solutions to the pressing challenges we face," says EPI co-creator Kim Samuel, Professor of Practice at McGill University's Institute for the Study of International Development.
"With the very survival of the planet at stake," Samuel adds, "we hope leaders will be inspired to act."