Bench-marking of environmental performance across Europe reveals Denmark at the top, UK at the bottom

National environmental quality appears to be partly linked to the amount spent on environmental protection, according to the first benchmarking analysis of five environmental agencies across Europe, commissioned by the Swiss environment agency, Buwal.

Of the five countries studied, Denmark spent the most at approximately €101 per inhabitant – equivalent to 0.5% of GDP and was given the highest environmental quality index rating of 34. This compares with Britain, with the lowest quality index of 46, and the lowest spend on environmental protection at around €17 per inhabitant, equivalent to 0.1% of GDP. Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the other countries in the survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, fell between the two extremes.

The study was instigated by the Swiss authority to try to gauge its own performance and find new ways to improve efficiency. The authority said it was pleased with the result. Overall, Switzerland emerged as achieving above-average environmental quality – only just second to Denmark, with a 35 quality rating, despite a below average level of spending. Buwal, spends far less than the Danish authorities, at around €48 per inhabitant, equivalent to 0.2% of GDP.

The number of employees at the Swiss environmental agency per 10,000 inhabitants is also below average, at 0.35 or just half the ratio for the five nations taken together (0.67). However, the Swiss agency bears higher than average personnel and workplace costs.

The Netherlands came third in environmental quality (index 39), but spends €92 per inhabitant, equivalent to 0.5% of GDP. Germany had the second worst environmental quality (index 41), despite spending more than the Swiss, with €55 per inhabitant, equivalent to 0.3% of GDP.

Buwal also pointed out that the study indicated that Switzerland had the cleanest record for air pollution; and ranked midway for wastewater treatment, narrowly behind Denmark and Germany. Swiss use of pesticides per area of arable land was the lowest of the five, and 25% of the Netherlands, which scored last in this area.

Switzerland was the leader for waste management, followed by Denmark and the Netherlands, with Germany and Britain bringing up the rear. However, for noise pollution, Switzerland came fourth, just behind Germany. Also, Switzerland and Germany had the worst scores on endangered species of mammals, birds and fish, but this was where Britain appeared to be leading.

However, despite publicising the findings of its report, Buwal pointed out that the results should not be over interpreted, as accurate direct comparisons are difficult to make due national variations in geography, organisations and environmental objectives.

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