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Study Puts Finland First, and U.S. 51st, in Environmental Health By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
02/02/2002

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 (98).

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 development.

And it found that no country got good grades in every category.

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 seriously."

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 need to."

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