Boffins looked at each country’s environmental health, air quality, water resources, biodiversity, natural resources and sustainable energy using 16 diverse indicators – from child mortality to carbon emissions per GDP – to come up with their position in the league table.

The result, the Pilot 2006 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), gives a snapshot of how states around the world are doing in these terms.

The EPI has been put together by researchers from Yale and Columbia universities and was launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this week.

Taking a two-pronged approach to performance, the team measured effective efforts to reduce environmental stresses on human health and to protect ecosystems.

“This approach provides a context for spotting trends and issues of concern, evaluating policy results, highlighting leaders and laggards, and identifying best practices,” said a spokesman for the researchers.

“While a lack of time-series data and other data gaps constrain the current effort, over time, this methodology should facilitate rankings based on rate of progress and enable global-scale assessments of the sustainability of the world’s environmental trajectory.”

The countries at the top of the chart – New Zealand, Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and the UK – are all putting considerable resources into tackling both domestic and global environmental concerns, says the report.

On the other hand, those who prop up the bottom of the table – Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Mali and Ethiopia – can all be found clustered around Saharan Africa, a region among the poorest in the world.

The countries score poorly because there is no funding to implement environmental measures and little in the way of natural resources or biodiversity.

Even those at the top of the chart score poorly in some areas and the authors are hoping politicians will use the EPI as a resource to learn good practice and perhaps form policy.

The authors have warned those doing well not to become complacent as although they might be achieving more than other nation states they are still far from perfect.

Britain, for example, was ranked 65th in terms of sustainability by the same team of researchers in 2005, mainly because it had felled most of its forests and killed off many of its native species in preceding centuries.

The UK ranks highly in performance, however, due to the general level of environmental health and policies to reduce its negative impact on the environment.

The index reveals that nations at all levels of economic development face serious environmental challenges.

Industrialized countries often suffer from pollution and degraded ecosystems. Developing countries must confront the additional challenge of managing environmental health stresses such as water-borne diseases and indoor air pollution.

The United States placed 28th in the rankings- significantly below other comparable highly-developed nations like the UK and eight-placed Canada.

This score reflects top-tier performance on environmental health issues, but also indicates that the United States is under-performing on critical issues such as renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and water resources.

“The lagging performance of the United States on environmental issues – particularly on energy and climate change – signals trouble not only for the American people, but for the whole world,” said Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“Perhaps this ranking will serve as a wake up call to the American public and particularly to leaders in Washington.”

By Sam Bond

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