Study Puts Finland First, and U.S. 51st, in Environmental
Health By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 ‹ A new study of 142 countries has
found that Finland ranks first in the world for its environmental
health and the United Arab Emirates ranks last, with the
United States coming in at 51.
The top five countries were Finland, Norway, Sweden,
Canada and Switzerland. The five worst were Haiti, Iraq,
North Korea, Kuwait and the Emirates.
The United States ranked behind Botswana (15) and Cuba
(47), but ahead of Germany (54), Japan (62) and Britain
The study found that although economic wealth does not
necessarily correlate with a healthy environment, the
level of corruption within a government does.
That is, the more corrupt the government, the less likely
it is to pay attention to the environment.
The study also found considerable variation among countries
that were at the same level of industrialization and economic
And it found that no country got good grades in every
It was conducted by the Yale Center for Environmental
Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth
Science Information Network at Columbia University for
the World Economic Forum, being held in New York this
week. Much of the commentary in the report focuses on
the lack of reliable data in most countries, a challenge
to experts in their efforts to set a baseline of information
for future evaluations, to be conducted annually.
The study took into account 68 variables ‹ including
how a country responds to water and air pollution, how
it protects land, whether its government is corrupt and
how seriously it takes global climate change ‹ to measure
environmental "sustainability," or likely environmental
quality of life over the next generation.
"No country is on a truly sustainable path,"
the study concluded. "Every country has some issues
on which its performance is below average."
Daniel Esty, director of the Yale Center, attributed
the United States' midlevel ranking to inadequacies in
controlling greenhouse gases and reducing waste, offset
by great success in controlling water pollution.
"It's an interesting question for a country that
is so good in some respects, why that global-scale issue
has not been given more focus and produced better results,"
Mr. Esty said.
He said the study was intended to help countries become
more rigorous in making environmental decisions.
"Some in the business community take climate change
seriously," he said, "but others fear it's an
issue created by a set of extreme environmental groups.
If they saw the data and the picture of reality that the
data presents, they might be willing to take the problem
He said that Cuba and Botswana ranked higher than the
United States because they did not have as much industry
and therefore as much stress on their environments. "It's
not necessarily better to be in Botswana than it is to
be in the United States," he said. "But there
are some issues that are more serious in the United States
and we can ask if we're taking those as seriously as we