Switzerland is the top performer for protecting the environment and human health.

No. 2: Luxemborg

No. 3: Australia

No. 4: Singapore

No. 5: Czech Republic

No. 6 Germany

No. 12: United Kingdom

No. 24: Canada

No. 26: Japan

No. 33 United States

2014-02-03

Co.Exist

The 5 Greenest Countries On Earth (And All Of The Rest), Ranked

Want to live in a beautiful nation that protects your health? It turns out Switzerland is your best bet (the chocolate is also good).

Switzerland does a good job managing the environment and protecting human health. The United States does it middlingly well. And Somalia, Haiti, and Afghanistan--as you might expect--not so great. They are some of the worst performers in a new ranking of environmental performance.

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) assesses countries for how well they protect people from environmental harm and how well they protect ecosystems from human encroachment. It crunches data for nine categories--from air quality to forest and marine health--using 20 indicators in all.

After Switzerland in top place comes Luxembourg, Australia, Singapore, and the Czech Republic. In sixth place, Germany is the first major economy, with the U.K. in 12th. Eighteen of the top 20 countries are in Europe, with Canada in 24th, Japan in 26th, and the U.S. in 33rd.

While richer countries tend to do better in the ranking, some newly prosperous nations come off relatively badly. For example, China is in 118th place and India is in 155th. Russia and Brazil are in 73rd and 77th respectively.

The U.S. has a score of 67.52 out of 100, and ranks well for areas like air quality and sanitation. It falls off in categories like forests, fisheries, and climate.

As well as ranking countries, the report also provides an overall "scorecard" for the environment, showing how trends are going in different directions. On the one hand, 2 billion more people have access to drinking water and decent sanitation now compared to 1990. And increased areas of ocean and land are now protected from development. On the other, air quality is getting worse in many places, and fish stocks are frequently over-exploited. Moreover, "monitoring capability"--representing future ability to stave off damage--is often "distressingly weak," particularly around agriculture and freshwater.

The report was prepared by the Yale University Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network. As well as country profiles, the report website also includes a "data explorer" for creating your own charts. It's all well worth a look.

Image: Switzerland via Shutterstock]

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22 Comments

  • Bita Farahbod

    Australia has one of the driest and largest deserts on earth, in fact if you look at the OZ map, you’ll see only the very ocean edges are green. What drug where they on, when making this list? You must be absolutely joking! And I lived in Singapore for 4 months, the amount of filth I saw on those streets and the fact that it has more asphalt roads than untouched reserves makes you wonder more about the writers of this article!

  • Karma Dhendup

    BHUTAN is 72% covered by forests. I wonder if this index has any proof. Just google out Bhutan you will know it..

  • Pablo Goulart de Queiroz

    I totally disagree this ranking, Australia recently approved extracting coral reefs zones in order to boost their coal production. Singapore is tiny little country very artificial, that has to import forest and most of times it isn't native plants etc. In my opinion the correct expression should be "Cities doing best in Sustainability management indexes" not "green cities". And US, western europe.. Well, if you think most of big corporation are from those countries, they find cheap labor outside and don't give a damn about them: e.g. GAP doing bad in southeast asia or monsanto modifying genetically other countries crops, devastating forests and competing local farmers.

  • Bita Farahbod

    Australia has one of the driest and largest deserts on earth, in fact if you look at the OZ map, you’ll see only the very ocean edges are green. What drug where they on, when making this list? You must be absolutely joking! And I lived in Singapore for 4 months, the amount of filth I saw on those streets and the fact that it has more asphalt roads than untouched reserves makes you wonder more about the writers of this article!

  • Raz Ross

    No idea how Singapore got no. 4. Such a tiny country that have to plant trees in order to have trees. No natural trees or forests. Even the slide picture showed the urban city buildings. Stupid rankings.

  • I am so disappointed that my country Lesotho ranks this low, I wonder whether my compatriots know this, esp. our leaders who are tasked with environmental protection like those in the Ministry of Forestry/Environment....Anyway, I believe there are good lessons we can glean from other good performing countries, and it is up to us as individual members of these communities to do something, otherwise there will nothing left for our children.

  • Does anyone else have problems with the slide show? I can only go "as far right" to #3 (Australia) and then I can't go "right" to #4 (Singapore) - I have to click #4 via the thumbnail below and proceed. I also can't do the reverse of what I said. Not complaining, I am just wondering if anyone else has this problem. I use Chrome on Mountain Lion.

    Would LOVE to see the full-res HDR versions of some of these stunning shots.

  • Mike Slone

    You should check your photo credit. The first photo of Switzerland is actually of Italy: Santa Maddalena in Dolomites Range,South Tyrol, Italy

  • Marco Colombo

    The first picture is not Switzerland but Italy, it's Santa Maddalena in Val di Funes, Sud Tyrol, the mountains are Puez Odle Group. Shuterstock is worng in its tags.

  • Michaela Trnka

    Seems random to me…what are the criteria ? The Czech republic used to be the worst in terms of environmental protection ( dead forests, poisonous emissions, chemical waste etc). Switzerland does not have any heavy industry and the US, well excuse me….So I beg to differ.

  • Jessica Booth

    As an Australian I find our No. 3 ranking in this study difficult to swallow given our Prime Minister Tony Abbott is currently condoning great environmental atrocities in our country. As I write this sane people across Australia are reeling from the decision made last week to allow the dumping of millions of tonnes of dredging sludge in a World Heritage site (the Great Barrier Reef) and pushing for the stripping of World Heritage protection of great Tasmanian wildernesses to make way for logging. "No federal government has ever attempted such a large scale wind-back of world heritage protection", the International Union for the Conservation of Nature said.

    Perhaps this study was conducted prior to the Abbott government coming to power.

  • Seems a somewhat misguided study.

    Australian is nearly the size of the USA and has a population somewhere near Greater London? So congratulations for not deforesting or polluting.... is a little misguided.

    The things we rank extremely well in are air quality, water & sanitation, water resources, and health impacts, all around 90-100% Makes sense for an enormous country of incredible natural attributes.

    We get 47% on climate & energy. Is that not a better indicator of the current green attitudes of our nation?

    Maybe Australia is incredibly healthy, covered in greenery, and full of healthy drinking water, but carry on ignoring the environment the way we're going and we'll soon have ripped a lot of that up...

  • Bita Farahbod

    Australia has one of the driest and largest deserts on earth, in fact if you look at the OZ map, you’ll see only the very ocean edges are green. What drug where they on, when making this list? You must be absolutely joking! And I lived in Singapore for 4 months, the amount of filth I saw on those streets and the fact that it has more asphalt roads than untouched reserves makes you wonder more about the writers of this article!

  • Yumi Luff

    I agree wholeheartedly, Jessica. When I saw Australia ranked at No. 3, I was shocked.

    I implore the authors, research institutes, and financial contributors to this report: reassess the report to include new information which may have come to light after the initital report was finalised.

    The Australian Government needs to be held accountable for giving big $ companies permission to destroy our natural habitat in order to generate better profits by not disposing of their waste properly, (which happens to be a more expensive exercise than simply tearing up some World Heritage site).

    I would hate for readers of the report to be disillusioned about what's actually happening in this country. The world needs to know what the current Australian government is up to.

    From The Guardian website:

    'WWF: Of the seven detailed recommendations from the World Heritage Committee the Australian and Queensland governments have failed to make "good progress or completed" any of them.'

  • Alexander Weng

    Except the picture of Switzerland actually shows the Dolomites mountains in Italy (search for Veduta Delle Dolomiti)