January 28, 2005

Finland Leads World on Environment

DAVOS, Switzerland (AFP) -- Finland is the world leader in pursuing environmentally friendly policies, according to a study of 146 countries for a global index Friday that ranks North Korea, Iraq and Taiwan at the bottom.

The 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI), unveiled at the World Economic Forum being held in the Swiss resort of Davos, put the United States in 45th place, although ahead of Britain in 66th.

The index is based on an assessment of a country's natural resources, past and present pollution levels, environmental management efforts and how well it improves its environmental performance over time.

While the United States scored well for its water quality and environment protection capacity, its overall score was brought down by waste generation and greenhouse gas emissions.

Dan Esty, a professor at Yale University who created the index, said North Korea, Taiwan and Turkmenistan were the lowest-ranked countries as they faced many natural and man-made challenges and had poorly managed policy choices.

In contrast, "I was surprised by the relatively strong performance of the Latin American countries," he told a press conference here.

Uruguay ranked third highest in the index, behind Finland and Norway.

Esty put Latin America's overall strength down to lower industrialisation that spared it many "pollution stresses" faced by the more developed nations, adding that "they also don't have the intense pressures of poverty that you see dragging down a number of countries in Asia and Africa."

He pointed to South Korea as among the most improved since the first index was published in 2002.

"South Korea probably gets high marks as the greatest effort by any country, the ministry there has used this index as a performance guage and has really tracked its success over time against these results," Esty said.

Seoul "has therefore jumped up a number of spots, 20 slots or something like that," he noted.

Esty stressed that "one does not have to sacrifice competitiveness to be environmentally successful, one can achieve both at the same time."

Finland stood out as the best example of that, the study found.

"Finland is the equal of the United States in competitiveness but scores much higher on environmental sustainability and outperforms the US across a spectrum of issues, from air pollution to contributions to global-scale environmental efforts," an ESI statement said.