Evaluating the Relative Environmental Impact of Countries

Abstract: Environmental protection is critical to maintain ecosystem services essential for human well-being. It is important to be able to rank countries by their environmental impact so that poor performers as well as policy ‘models’ can be identified. We provide novel metrics of country-specific environmental impact ranks – one proportional to total resource availability per country and an absolute (total) measure of impact – that explicitly avoid incorporating confounding human health or economic indicators. Our rankings are based on natural forest loss, habitat conversion, marine captures, fertilizer use, water pollution, carbon emissions and species threat, although many other variables were excluded due to a lack of country-specific data. Of 228 countries considered, 179 (proportional) and 171 (absolute) had sufficient data for correlations. The proportional index ranked Singapore, Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, Thailand, Bahrain, Malaysia, Philippines and Netherlands as having the highest proportional environmental impact, whereas Brazil, USA, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, India, Russia, Australia and Peru had the highest absolute impact (i.e., total resource use, emissions and species threatened). Proportional and absolute environmental impact ranks were correlated, with mainly Asian countries having both high proportional and absolute impact. Despite weak concordance among the drivers of environmental impact, countries often perform poorly for different reasons. We found no evidence to support the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis of a non-linear relationship between impact and per capita wealth, although there was a weak reduction in environmental impact as per capita wealth increases. Using structural equation models to account for cross-correlation, we found that increasing wealth was the most important driver of environmental impact. Our results show that the global community not only has to encourage better environmental performance in less-developed countries, especially those in Asia, there is also a requirement to focus on the development of environmentally friendly practices in wealthier countries.
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Bradshaw CJA, Giam X, Sodhi NS (2010) Evaluating the Relative Environmental Impact of Countries. PLoS ONE 5(5): e10440. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0010440

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