European countries lead the EPI’s top performers, occupying 17 the top 20 positions. While the United States (27th) scores among the top 30 nations worldwide, it ranks towards the bottom of its regional ranking. Many European and North American nations are members of the Organization for Economic Coöperation and Development(OECD). All are ranked highly on the United Nations Human Development Index, a measure of quality of life within a country. However, national trends and statistics often mask inequities and poor results at the sub-national level. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in the United States underscores the disproportionate environmental burdens that can exist within even the most developed countries and highlights key areas for improvement.
The spread in rankings among Asian countries is larger than for any other region. Japan (20th), Taiwan (23rd), and Singapore (49th) emerge as regional leaders, while Nepal (176th), India (177th), and Bangladesh (179th) are among the lowest-performing countries in both their region and the world. The spread in scores may be explained by the varying levels of economic development within Asia. Several countries in Asia have experienced rapid periods of economic growth within the last century. East Asian countries, like Japan and South Korea, witnessed considerable improvements in economic productivity post World War II. These improvements often translated into higher levels of human development and environmental performance. Conversely, many Asian countries in South and Southeast Asia are still in a state of transition. India’s low scores are influenced by poor performance in the Environmental Health policy objective. Deaths attributed to PM2.5 have risen over the past decade and are estimated at 1.6 million annually (Institute for Environmental Analytics, 2017). Despite government action, pollution from solid fuels, coal and crop residue burning, and emissions from motor vehicles continue to severely degrade the air quality for millions of Indians.
Latin American nations are broadly distributed over the middle half of the 2018 EPI rankings. Costa Rica leads Latin America in the 30th position with a score of 67.85. Guyana received the lowest score in the region, landing in the 128th position with a score of 47.93. Levels of development vary widely among Latin American countries, resulting in a broad range of effective governance and in turn the provision of services for human health and the protection of ecosystems. For example, the per capita GDP of Honduras was estimated to be $5,500 in 2017 (CIA, 2017b)while, in contrast, Chile’s per capita GDP was estimated to be $24,600 (CIA, 2017a). Environmental performance is of critical interest as Latin America is home to over 40% of the Earth’s biodiversity and more than 25% of its forests. The area also encompasses the Amazon rainforest, the world’s most biodiverse region (UNEP, 2016).
While Latin America made uneven progress on the issue categories examined in the 2018 EPI, a few bright spots emerged from the results. In 2017 Mexico created four new marine protected areas (MPAs) (IUCN, 2017b). Mexico’s MPA at Revillagigedo is now the largest no-fishing area in North America (IUCN, 2017a)and supports nearly 360 species of fish, coral colonies, and four species of sea turtle (Bello, 2017). The 2018 EPI also identified Peru as one of the world’s leaders in the sustainable management of fisheries. Three Peruvian Fisheries Acts were enacted after 1995 and greatly improved the sustainability of the nation’s anchovy fishery. The legislation served to regulate foreign involvement in the fishery, control fishing quotas, and establish fishing seasons (Arias Schreiber, 2012).
Haiti (174th) falls far below other countries in its peer group and is the only country outside sub-Saharan Africa and Asia that falls in the bottom 20 overall rankings. While Caribbean countries face several development challenges, including a limited land area for development, deforestation, and reliance on imports for energy needs, Haiti, the 7th worst performer, has faced significant political, economic, and social setbacks throughout its history (UNEP, 2013). Haiti and the Dominican Republic (46th) share an island, but environmental conditions in the two countries are vastly different. Haiti had substantially weaker performance than the Dominican Republic in the issue categories Water & Sanitation and Biodiversity & Habitat, scoring 26.95 points and 72.67 points lower in each category, respectively. Both countries, however, score poorly in agriculture and forests, indicating that soil erosion and deforestation remain key concerns on the island.
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are dispersed throughout the middle of the 2018 global rankings, with Israel (19th), Qatar (32nd), and Morocco (54th) leading the regional rankings. Oman (116th), Libya (123rd), and Iraq (152nd) rank as the lowest performers within the region. Many MENA countries contain vast hydrocarbon reserves, which often adversely impact performance on key indicators for Air Quality and Climate & Energy. Oil refineries, hydrocarbon-generated power plants, and high fossil fuel subsidies may have impacted performance for several MENA countries. Underpricing of energy from fossil fuel subsidies in many countries has contributed to wasteful energy use and poor performance in the Climate & Energy issue category. For example, the United Arab Emirates, a country with large economic resources and high quality of life, ranks 166th. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, also score low in the Climate & Energy issue category, ranking 134th and 161st, respectively. Opportunities for improvements in environmental performance exist. The MENA region shows vast potential for renewable energy, and many nations have begun the process of diversifying their energy portfolios.
Scores for Eastern Europe and Eurasia range widely. Some exhibit effective environmental regulations, and 14 countries place within the top 50 globally. Russia, the most politically and economically influential country in this region, ranks 15th in the region and 52nd overall. Russia’s score is boosted by high performance in the Water Resources issue categories. In the Forests category Russia scores poorly, despite having the most total tree cover of any country. Several countries in the region score very highly in the Forests category. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have successfully prevented recent tree cover loss. These scores may be influenced by the relatively small tree cover in these counties (World Bank, 2017). Bosnia and Herzegovina has the lowest score in the region by far, ranking 158th overall. The country scores poorly in most categories and receives zero scores for water resources. According to the IMF, Bosnia and Herzegovina may be growing after decades of hardship. Attention to environmental policymaking and enforcement could boost the country’s performance in future years (IMF, 2015).
Countries in the Pacific region exhibit a broad range of scores, with New Zealand (17th) and Australia (21st) at the top of the group, demonstrating strong overall environmental performance. This is not surprising considering both nations wield considerable political and economic influence throughout the region and globally. In contrast, most of the Pacific countries with lower rankings are small island developing states with limited economic resources and weak or insufficient environmental governance. Vanuatu (144th) and the Solomon Islands (151st) exhibit the weakest EPI scores in the region. Over the past decade, countries in the Pacific region have experienced significant amounts of deforestation, and forest management is a high priority concern for the region. Low scores in the Forests issue category reflects a need to establish strong sustainable forest management measures as soon as possible if these countries hope to maintain vital ecosystem services.
Developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have the greatest to gain from improvements in environmental performance. Sub-Saharan African countries score lower than any other region, occupying 30 of the bottom 44 positions. Investments in clean water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure could help these countries significantly boost their scores. Rising populations in sub-Saharan Africa continue to put substantial pressure on limited environmental resources. The UN estimates that about half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is living on less than a dollar a day, making it the world’s poorest and least developed region (UN, 2014). The number of people living in slums, often without access to basic services, is expected to double to approximately 400 million people by 2020, putting even more pressure on these resources (UN, 2014).
High performance in sub-Saharan Africa is still possible, with Seychelles and Namibia both making significant progress on certain issue categories. Seychelles scored 39th in the overall rankings and first in its regional group. Seychelles’ rise stems largely from improvements in the Climate & Energyissue category because of new policy choices that place climate change at the center of its development strategy. Seychelles’ score increased by 83.21 from a 10.04 baseline, and Seychelles is now a net sink for global GHGs (Republic of Seychelles, 2015, p. 1). Namibia(79th) improved its Biodiversity & Habitatscore significantly over the past decade, ranking 11th in the issue category. Namibia’s deep commitment to biodiversity and environmental protection is embedded in its history. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate the environment into its constitution. Following its independence in 1990, the government returned ownership of its wildlife to the people, employing a successful, community-based management system that gave its citizens the right to create conservancies (Conniff, 2011; WWF, 2011).Today, Namibia has 148 protected areas covering 37.89% of its terrestrial environment and 1.71% of its Economic Exclusion Zone (UNEP-WCMC, 2018).