[quote]Posted on Mon, Jan. 24, 2005
AIR & WATER QUALITY
Finland, Norway and Uruguay topped the list of countries on an index that measures factors that contribute to a clean and healthy environment. The U.S. was 45 out of 146.
From Herald Wire Services
WASHINGTON - Countries from north and central Europe and South America dominated the top spots in the 2005 index of environmental sustainability, which ranks countries on their success at tasks such as maintaining or improving air and water quality, maximizing biodiversity and cooperating with other countries on environmental problems.
Finland, Norway and Uruguay held the top three spots in the ranking, prepared by researchers at Yale and Columbia universities. The United States ranked 45th of the 146 countries studied, behind such countries as Japan, Botswana and the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, an
d most of western Europe.
The lowest-ranking country was North Korea. Among the others near the bottom were Haiti, Taiwan, Iraq and Kuwait.
The index is the second produced in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, which meets in Davos this week. The first complete index, in 2002, produced outrage and soul-searching in lower-ranking countries like Belgium and South Korea, said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and an author of the report.
The report is based on 75 measures including the rate at which children die from respiratory diseases, fertility rates, water quality, overfishing, emission of heat-trapping gases and the export of sodium dioxide, a crucial component of acid rain.
In its opening chapter, the Environmental Sustainability Index report said: ``Although imperfect, the ESI helps to fill a long-existing gap in environmental performance evaluation. It offers a small step toward a more vigorous and quantitative approach to
environmental decision making.''
The report also noted that there was a statistically significant correlation between high-ranking countries and countries with open political systems and effective governments.
The report's flaws stem largely from inadequate data, Esty said, adding that the ranking system is at best approximate, because some individual scores had to be imputed in many cases. But he said that data may improve in coming years.
He also said that a system that rates Russia, whose populated western regions have undergone extraordinary environmental degradation, as having greater environmental sustainability than the United States has inherent weaknesses.
At 33, Russia's ranking, Esty said, is in large part a consequence of the country's vast size. While it ''has terrible pollution problems'' in the western industrial heartland, he said, its millions of unsettled or sparsely settled acres of Asian taiga mean ``it has vast untrammeled resources and more clean wate
r than anywhere in the world.''
Because such differences make many countries inherently difficult to compare, he said, the report also analyzes seven clusters of similar countries.
Another cluster ranked countries whose land is more than 50 percent desert, including Israel and much of the Arab world. But nations with some of the most oil wealth, like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, ranked in the bottom third.
Irritation at low rankings in the 2002 index spurred countries like Mexico and South Korea to improve their efforts, Esty added.
South Korea moved up 13 spots between 2002 and the latest report, but was only No. 122 in the overall index, and 14th out of 21 high-density countries in which more than half the land has a population density greater than 100 people per square kilometer.[/quote]
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