Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Eco-footprints and other measures of sustainability

Being on different listserves helps keep me updated on developments especially on environmental issues. Two recent studies were released on the the ecological footprints of countries or regions. An ecological footprint is the demand and usage of natural resources by wo/man vis-à-vis the capacity of the Earth to regenerate these natural resources and at the same time, manage the wastes or pollution generated.

The environmental anthropology listserve I am on relayed the forthcoming publication of Uthara Srinvasan and colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley on th ecological footprints of rich countries versus poor countries. They used ecological and environmental accounting data from a 40-year period covering 1961-2000 to assess the impacts of of agricultural intensification, deforestation, overfishing, loss and degradation of mangrove, ozone depletion and climate change, among others. See Srinvasan's figure below.

In the environmental accounting of the ecological footprints of the world's low-, middle- and high-income nations the report supports scientific assertions and live-in experiences of people and communities suffering from environmental degradation that richer countries are developing at the expense of poorer countries. The report's estimates of the environmental impacts are conservative. See:

Rich Nations' Environmental Footprints Tread Heavily On Poor Countries also alerted me to the beta version of the 2008 Environmental Performance Index of 149 countries jointly developed by Yale University and Columbia University. Incomplete data excluded 89 other countries. While the Srinvasan studies used six indicators, the 2008 EPI ranked the countries based on two objectives ("enviornmental health and vitality"), 25 indicators covering six established policy categories: Environmental Health, Air Pollution, Water Resources, Biodiversity and Habitat, Productive Natural Resources, and Climate Change and three subpolicy categories.

The findings are be announced at a press conference (23 January 2008) at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. It comes as no surprise that Switzerland ranked first with an EPI score of 95.5 out of a possible 100. Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Costa Rica round up the top five. Five African countries occupy the bottom ranking five. These are Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Angola, and Niger.

The United States ranked 39th with 22 E.U. countries and 11 in the Americas ahead of it ahead of it. It rated high in environmental health but poorly in environmental vitality as a developed country.

The Philippines ranked 61, which indicates that much needed improvements especially in the policy categories of "environmental burden of disease" and "biodiversity and habitat."

Implications of the rankings include: (a) wealth an indicator of good EPI score, (b) collective investment in environmental initiatives is needed, (c) best practices should be promoted.

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