4 Jun 2010

The environmental impact of countries

Evaluating the Relative Environmental Impact of Countries. Bradshaw et al. PLoS ONE, 2010; 5 (5):
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...

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)...

We found no evidence to support the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis of a non-linear relationship between impact and per capita wealth... 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.
Note the "Kuznets" comment -- countries have a greater impact as they develop, and that impact doesn't fall by much as they get rich. So, yeah, we cannot "develop" our way to sustainability; we have to live with less.

You can download the paper here and read an article about it here