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2010 Environmental Performance Index
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2010 Environmental Performance Index

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Iceland leads the world in addressing pollution control and natural resource management challenges, according to the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) produced by a team of environmental experts at Yale University and Columbia University. This is the third edition of the EPI, which has been revisited biannually since 2006.

the EPI ranks 163 countries on their performance across 25 metrics aggregated into ten categories including: environmental health, air quality, water resource management, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture, and climate change.
Iceland’s top-notch performance derives from its high scores on environmental public health, controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and reforestation. Other top performers include Switzerland, Costa Rica, Sweden, and Norway – all of which have made substantial investments in environmental infrastructure, pollution control, and policies designed to move toward long-term sustainability. Occupying the bottom five positions are Togo, Angola, Mauritania, the Central African Republic, and Sierra Leone –impoverished countries that lack basic environmental amenities and policy capacity.

The United States places 61st in the 2010 EPI, with strong results on some issues, such as provision of safe drinking water and forest sustainability, and weak performance on other issues including greenhouse gas emissions and several aspects of local air pollution. This ranking puts the United States significantly behind other industrialized nations like the United Kingdom (14th), Germany (17th), and Japan (20th). Over 20 members of the European Union outrank the United States. The United States’ ranking does not reflect the recent policy activities of the Obama Administration, as the 2010 EPI builds on data from before 2009.
Of the newly industrialized nations, China and India rank 121st and 123rd respectively – reflecting the strain rapid economic growth imposes on the environment. However, Brazil and Russia rank 62nd and 69th, suggesting that the level of development is just one of many factors affecting placement in the rankings.

The 2010 EPI report provides a detailed analysis for each country, showing its performance on each of the 25 basic indicators, the ten core policy categories, and the two over-arching objectives of environmental public health and ecosystem vitality. In addition, each nation is benchmarked against others that are similarly situated with groupings based on geographic regions, level of development, trading blocs, and demographic characteristics. These peer group rankings make it easy to highlight leaders and laggards on an issue-by-issue basis and to identify “best practices.”

Analysis of the policy drivers underlying the 2010 rankings suggests that income is a major determinant of environmental success. At every level of development, however, some countries achieve results that exceed what would be anticipated, demonstrating that policy choices also affect performance. For example, Chile, where substantial investments in environmental protection have been made, ranks 16th, while its neighbor, Argentina, which has done much less to improve its pollution control and natural resource management, lags in 70th place. Regulatory rigor, the rule of law and good governance, and the absence of corruption also show strong correlations with high EPI scores.

“At the Copenhagen Climate Conference, reliable environmental performance data emerged as fundamental to global-scale policy cooperation,” said Daniel C. Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale. “The 2010 EPI shows the potential for a much more analytically rigorous approach to environmental decisionmaking, but substantial investments in indicators that are systematically tracked and transparently displayed will be needed."

The Environmental Performance Index builds on the best data available with indicators drawn from international organizations, such as the World Bank, the UN Development Programme, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as well as research groups such as the World Resources Institute and the University of British Columbia. But many of these data sets are based on reporting by national governments that is not subject to any external review or verification.

Serious data gaps, moreover, limit the ability to measure performance on a number of important issues. And incomplete data resulted in the exclusion of dozens of countries from the 2010 EPI. “High-quality data combined with appropriate statistical analysis can certainly help policymakers identify problems and trends, hone preferred policy approaches, and more effectively leverage public investments in environmental protection,” said Jay Emerson, professor of statistics at Yale and one of the leaders of the 2010 EPI effort. “However, the conclusions that emerge are only as good as the underlying data. We are firmly committed to further improvements in data quality,” he added.

Marc Levy, deputy director of Columbia’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network and one of the EPI project leaders, further observed, “For some critical issues such as water, international investments have actually decreased in recent years.”











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