2.0. Country Performance

Individual country ranks and EPI scores are shown in Map 3-1 and Figure 3-3. At the top of the rankings, Switzerland leads the world in the 2018 EPI with a score of 87.42 in overall environmental performance. Switzerland’s top ranking reflects strong performance across most issues, especially Climate & Energy and Air Pollution. Within Environmental Health, Switzerland also stands out in Water & Sanitation. While Switzerland’s Biodiversity & Habitat score is 84.20, 62nd in the world, its protected areas have the top score on the Protected Area Representativeness Index.

France (83.95), Denmark (81.60), Malta (80.9), and Sweden (80.51) round out the top five countries in the 2018 EPI. Within Environmental Health, Denmark, Malta, and Sweden stand out for high scores in Air Quality. Additionally, Malta has the top rank in Water & Sanitation, and Sweden scores highest in lead exposure. On Ecosystem Vitality, France, Denmark, and Malta earn top scores in the issue category Biodiversity & Habitat. France and Denmark rank first in marine protected areas, and Malta joins them in first place in the protection of terrestrial biomes. Sweden places third in Climate & Energy, and France and Denmark excel in sustainable nitrogen management. In general, high scorers exhibit long-standing commitments to protecting public health, preserving natural resources, and decoupling greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from economic activity.

At the bottom of the 2018 EPI rankings are Nepal (31.44), India (30.57), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (30.41), Bangladesh (29.56), and Burundi (27.43). Low scores on the EPI are indicative of the need for national sustainability efforts on several fronts, especially cleaning up air quality, protecting biodiversity, and reducing GHG emissions. Some of the lowest-ranking nations face broader challenges, such as civil unrest, but the low scores for others can be attributed to weak governance. We draw special attention to the issue category Air Quality. As the dominant source of diseases and disability in our data, countries that score poorly in the 2018 EPI on Air Quality, such as India (Air Quality score of 5.75), China (14.39), and Pakistan (15.69), face a public health crisis that demands urgent attention.

The United States places 27th in the 2018 EPI. As with many wealthy democracies, the US scores well on Water & Sanitation (90.92) and Air Quality (97.52). Persistent challenges for the US include deforestation (8.84) and GHG emissions (45.81). Among industrialized nations, the US ranks near the bottom, behind the United Kingdom (6th), Germany (13th), Italy (16th), Japan (20th), Australia (21st), and Canada (25th).

Performance among the emerging economies is mixed. For the five major nations in this category, Russia ranks 52nd, Brazil 69th, China 120th, South Africa 142nd, and India 177th. Industrialization and urbanization, as in India and China, put strains on the environment and human health even as they generate the capital necessary for investment in environmental protection. The range of scores among these countries, however, demonstrate that factors beyond economic development are important determinants of environmental performance.

Seychelles ranks as the most-improved country over the past decade, rising from a baseline score of 47.05 to a 2018 EPI score of 66.02, equivalent to a jump of 86 places in the rankings. This improvement springs largely from its commitment to combating GHG emissions. São Tomé and Príncipe, Kuwait, and Timor-Leste also increased their scores due to several factors, including the establishment of areas protecting biodiversity and habitat. Burundi, Central African Republic, Madagascar, the Bahamas, and Latvia slipped significantly in environmental performance, largely due to sub-par performance on climate change. Countries at the top of the EPI rankings tend not to change very much over time. High scorers have little room for improvement, and the durability of good governance and investments in infrastructure make deterioration rare.

Another story of interest is Colombia. Following a peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia now has an opportunity to expand conservation efforts while promoting economic development in post-conflict regions (Palmer, 2017). The government plans to train 1,100 former FARC fighters to track and report illegal logging and promote sustainable farming and ecotourism (Moloney, 2017). Efforts to protect rainforest habitat are also expanding. The government has doubled the area of its national parks since 2010 and plans to expand protected areas in post-conflict regions in 2018 (Palmer, 2017). The country’s modest gains in its EPI score could be a sign of promising environmental protections to come.