A composite index defined by experts from the American universities of Yales and Columbia and published in the journal “Nature”, establishes a world ranking of 146 nations according to their ability to sustainably preserve the environment. France only takes 36th place in this hit parade, far behind Finland.
The index or ESI Environmental Sustainability Index, establishes scores for the “sustainability” of nations in a “benchmarking” process (only relative measures are established). Thus, a country with a higher index has a better chance of being able to preserve its environment in the near future.
The ESI is based on 76 different kind of variables (quality of goods, subsidies ...). These are used as a methodology to calculate indicators 21 5 classified into groups:
- the inventory (air quality, biodiversity, natural spaces, water quality and resources);
- limitation of pressure on the environment (air, water, forest pollution, etc.);
- reduction of human vulnerability (health, nutrition, natural disasters, etc.);
- institutional response capacity (regulation, knowledge, governance, etc.);
- international positioning (international conventions and commitments, cooperation, etc.).
ESI indicator is the simple average of these indicators 21.
However, they do not have the same meaning as the French indicators for sustainable development, the aim is rather to select certain key variables for 3 pillars of sustainable development (environment, economy, social and health).
So we learn the rankings?
5 the first countries: Finland, Norway, Uruguay, Sweden and Iceland (except for Uruguay, little industry, is not subjected to strong environmental pressure) are highly developed countries with significant natural resources, a strong economy and low population density. In addition, each of them has already had the opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to face the challenges of development.
According to the study, this is not the case for the last 5 country ranking: North Korea, Iraq, Taiwan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, whose political institutions are presented (except for Taiwan) as weak and not allowing to take the kind of decisions to solve the many environmental problems related to natural hazards or human activities.
The United States is placed in 45th position, just behind the Netherlands and ahead of the United Kingdom. This rank reflects both good American performance in water quality and environmental protection, but also poorer results linked in particular to greenhouse gas emissions.
France ranks meanwhile the 36e site (11e for the European Union alone) within a group of countries with high density of population, including institutional capacity is still above average.
Unlike a general bad reputation due to deforestation, some Latin American countries derive their game, including Uruguay which 3e place position with a biodiversity that remains of great wealth.
Gabon was the first African country (12e). This is especially the one that is less likely to suffer a sharp deterioration in its short and medium-term environment: many data on its natural resources earned him the rank 3e for the inventory, although as developing countries, institutional capacity remains below the average.
The study confirms the key criteria of environmental performance: the low population density, economic vitality and good governance.
National income, for its part, promotes (without guaranteeing it) good environmental management: all the countries at the top of the ranking are relatively prosperous. However, whatever their level of economic development, all countries are confronted with environmental problems: some choose to solve them, others do not… There is no determinism in the matter, just as no country is very good or very bad in all areas.
Despite the drawbacks associated with all composite indicators, which can stick to the unavailability of data and especially the difficulty of aggregating variable whose impact can be very different in different countries, the ESI is an instrument for comparison environmental policies.
At a time when numbers have imposed themselves in decision-making processes, evaluating environmental performance is not without interest in promoting sustainable development ...
Official site The Environmental Performance Measurement Project (English)
Study references: Esty, Daniel C., Marc A. Levy, Tanja Srebotnjak, and Alexander de Sherbinin (2005). 2005
Environmental Sustainability Index: Benchmarking National Environmental Stewardship. New Haven, Conn. : Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy.