German Environment gets Poor Grades | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 05.02.2002
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German Environment gets Poor Grades

In a study of global environmental sustainability, Germany ranks only 54th out of 142 countries, behind the US and its European neighbors.


Germany produces too much air pollution

The results of the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) unveiled at the World Economic Forum will come as a surprise to many German environmentalists.

Compared to previous years when Germany came home with a positive ranking, this year’s 54th position places Berlin in mid-field far behind its European neighbors, and three slots behind the US.

The report, compiled by the Environmental Task Force of Global Leaders for Tomorrow and centers for environmental policy at Yale and Columbia University, analyzes ecosystems and environmental protection in 142 countries.

The ESI rating is calculated by compiling scores in 20 core indicators for five key areas: environmental systems, environmental stresses, human vulnerability to environmental risks, social and institutional capacity to respond to environmental threats, and a nation’s stewardship of global shared resources.

ESI Project Director Daniel Esty of Yale University says the systematic approach allows for better informed environmental decision making. In the past, decisions were made on "the basis of generalized observations and best guesses, or worse yet, rhetoric or emotion."

"The ESI moves us toward a more analytically rigorous and data driven approach to environmental decision making," Esty says.

Negative report card

For German politicians and environmental activists the numbers are clear: Germany needs to take a more active role in protecting the environment.

Germany’s overall score for the five target areas was 52.1 points, just slightly over the 50 point half-way mark on the 100-point scale.

In the target areas, Germany scored well on social and institutional response with 76 points and reducing human vulnerability with 81 points. The country’s role in global stewardship received a so-so rating of 50 points.

But the report card dropped below average when it came to the current state of environmental systems, 44 points, and reducing environmental stresses, 25 points.

Germany got the worst marks in its efforts to reduce air pollution: -2.55 points. Land use also scored poorly with –1.82 points, as did reducing ecosystem stress –1.28.

On the positive side, Germany did well in reducing population growth, protecting environmental health, investing in environmental science and technology, and in its capacity for debate on environmental issues.

United States

One of the biggest surprises in the ESI was the 51st placed USA. Despite recent debate focusing on the US’s negative environmental record and the Kyoto protocol, the Americans outdistanced Germany.

The US got high marks in the low level of environmental stress, earning 80 points versus Germany’s 25. With 58 points the US also received a higher ranking for the quality of its environmental systems than Germany.

On the other hand, the US scored low in its role of responsible usage of global resources. Compared to Germany and other European countries, the US had the lowest score of western countries with 24 points.

This is especially evident in the production of green house gas emissions and reducing waste and consumption. Here the US scored –1.75 and –2.23 respectively.

The US’s relatively high score can only be explained in terms of its vast tracks of undisturbed land. Whereas Europe, and Germany in particular, have a high land-use density for its population, the US has a very low rate, and thus a lower level of environmental stress.

European neighbors

Europe as a whole scored well on the ESI. The top five ranking countries were Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada and Switzerland. France, Denmark and the Netherlands also received ratings in the top half of the index. Only Italy, the United Kingdom and Belgium did worse than Germany.

Eastern European countries, many looking to gain entry into the EU in the next few years scored significantly lower than their western neighbors, especially in terms of air and water pollution.

On a scale of 0 to 100, no country received above average in all of the 20 indicators, says Peter Cornelius of the World Economic Forum’s Global Leaders for Tomorrow.

"Every country has room for improvement. No country can be said to be on a truly sustainable environmental path."

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