Finland Rules Environmental Index, US Lags Behind

Feb. 7, 2002
Finland leads the world in environmental sustainability, according to a 142-nation study released this week. The United States ranks 51st.

Finland leads the world in environmental sustainability, according to a 142-nation study released this week at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, held in New York. The study ranks the United States as 51st and the United Arab Emirates last.

The results emerge from the most recent update of the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), a joint project conducted by the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Columbia University''s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and the World Economic Forum''s Global Leaders for Tomorrow Environment Task Force. The first ESI report was released in 2000 and is updated annually.

The newest revision expands the number of countries included and uses a refined methodology to arrive at the rankings. In addition to the ESI, a pilot Environmental Performance Index (EPI) has also been unveiled. While the ESI takes account of environmental "endowments," current results and future capacity to manage environmental challenges, the EPI measures current performance on core environmental issues: air and water pollution, land protection and greenhouse emissions.

"The ESI permits systematic cross-national environmental comparisons. Environmental decision-making has long been plagued by uncertainties and a lack of critical information," observes Daniel C. Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and

Policy and the ESI project director. "As a result, choices are made on the basis of generalized observations and best guesses or, worse yet, rhetoric or emotion. The ESI assists the move toward a more analytically rigorous and data-driven approach to environmental decision making."

Finland''s place at the top of the ESI 2002 ranking is due to its success in minimizing air and water pollution; its high institutional capacity to handle environmental problems; and its comparatively low levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The United States'' performance is uneven. The report notes the United States lags in controlling greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and under-performs its peers in reducing waste. Yet, the United States stands at the forefront of the world in controlling water pollution and promoting robust environmental policy debates.

Among the 20 indicators that comprise the ESI are factors such as urban air quality, water quality and the strength of environmental regulation. The study builds on 68 underlying databases representing the most comprehensive publicly available collection of aggregated environmental indicators.

by Sandy Smith ([email protected])

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Nicole Stempak, Managing Editor:  Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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