Saturday, 26 June 2010

On top of the World!

The attention of the world is focused, at time of writing, on 32 countries. Not necessarily those most powerful (though some are included) or the most disruptive (though one or two are there too). These are the footballing powers of the world, from Brazil to Honduras. I thought it might be fun to pit them against each other in an environmental context as well.

In January 2010 the Yale Centre of Environmental law and policy prepared a report for the World Economic Policy forum in Geneva. ( They used a whole raft of factors, from air and water pollution to polices on climate change and biodiversity (if they were actually implemented - see Greece below).

So, cut to the chase, who won?? Well, the overall winner was Iceland, but I'm excluding them since a) they aren't at the World Cup Finals, and b) their volcanoes disrupted the skies of most of Europe! So, step forward.....

Switzerland! Second place overall. And they beat Spain! Despite not making the 2nd round its still a good time to be Swiss.

One would expect wealthy countries to top the list, as they can afford the necessary infrastructure, and indeed the 2nd place goes to France (7th officially), England/ UK are 4th (14th) and Germany 7th (17th), but actually commitment and good governance are even more important. Yale place Costa Rica an excellent 2nd and Slovakia make 3rd place in our table (13) despite inheriting an aging and polluting heavy industry from the Soviet era. Chile are 6th (16th), and the South American leaders.

So who are the bad boys? Bottom of the pack is Nigeria, in a large part due to problems with the oil industry there. Nigeria is home to the Niger valley, the largest wetland in Africa, but plagued with oil spills due to very poorly maintained equipment. These devastate local ecosystems, and eventually fisheries, combined with poor environmental policies and over fishing. Another problem is the flaring of natural gas associated with oil drilling - equivalent to 25% of the UK's gas usage in 2001, or 40% of Africa's. Of course this releases massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere,as well as damaging local heath from air pollution.
Second to last are North Korea, though to be fair to Nigeria, information from this closed state is notoriously unreliable and their rating rather a guess.

The worst performer in Latin America was Honduras, with Uruguay slightly in front. Honduras has had some well publicised political problems and coups, as well as being one of the poorest countries in Latin America, and thus the major environmental problem, deforestation, has had little priority. One of the major problems in Uruguay is pollution of their river estuaries. This has led to bitter disputes with Argentina, which shares a common border on the river Uruguay, especially over the building of new paper mills which discharge pulp into the river.

Worst scoring in our list for Europe, and 71st in the official list, was Greece. Deforestation has not helped, but their low score is mainly due to failure to implement obligations from their signature of the Kyoto treaty. Given their financial impecunity due to a not-totally-dissimilar failure to implement obligations over Euro membership, it is hard to see how things will improve in the short term.

But let's end on a good note. Switzerland for the Cup!!

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