Special Report

Countries Doing the Most (and Least) to Protect the Environment

 Countries doing the most to protect the environment:

Source: Thinkstock

10. France
> GDP per capita: $41,017
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 92.1%
> Area with gov. protections: 25.7%

Nearly 50% of all energy consumption in France comes from alternative and nuclear energy sources, the largest share of any country other than Iceland ot Paraguay. France’s nuclear power generates approximately 78% of France’s electricity production, approximately 20 percentage points more than any other country worldwide.

The preservation of species and habitat is a crucial component in maintaining biodiversity, which is critical for the planet’s health. In France, the newly established French Agency for Biodiversity will help push the preservation agenda for both the country and the world. Currently, 25.7% of France’s terrestrial and marine areas are protected, more than the 23.8% global average and one of the largest shares in the world.

Source: Thinkstock

9. Malta
> GDP per capita: $33,995
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protections: 0.5%

While the the United Nations recognizes clean drinking water as a basic human right, the organization estimates that as much as 8% of the world’s population lacks proper access to an improved water source. Malta is one of only two countries in the world where 100% of all wastewater is treated, and the entire population is connected to a centralized wastewater treatment facility.

Malta is also notable for its biodiversity. A small island nation, Malta is home to roughly 4,500 distinct plant and animal species, 85 of which can only be found on the island. Through the Malta Environment & Planning Authority’s National Biodiversity Strategy & Action Plan, the nation protects its unique array of flora and fauna. Only two mammal species on the island are threatened, less than nearly any country worldwide.

Source: Thinkstock

8. Estonia
> GDP per capita: $28,988
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 15.3%
> Pct. protected land: 19.9%

Environmental protection policies were established in Estonia after gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and adopting a new constitution the following year.

Estonia’s exceptionally low fossil fuel consumption is one indication of environment-friendly policies in the small Baltic nation. In stark contrast to other developed nations, just 12.3% of all energy consumption in the country comes from fossil fuels. This is one of the smallest such shares in the world. For reference, 82.8% of U.S. energy consumption comes from fossil fuels.

Source: Thinkstock

7. Portugal
> GDP per capita: $29,718
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 24.2%
> Pct. protected land: 1.9%

Nitrogen is commonly used in fertilizers to increase crop yield. While nitrogen can increase agricultural productivity, it can also have negative environmental effects, depleting the ozone, reducing air and water quality, and speeding climate change. Portugal is one of only 20% of countries meeting EPI targets for nitrogen use efficiency, which limits runoff and the resulting environmental damage.

Despite some progressive policies, Portugal’s environmental record is not exemplary across the board. The country lost nearly one-quarter of tree cover in forested areas between 2000 and 2014, more than anywhere else on Earth during that period.

Source: Thinkstock

6. Spain
> GDP per capita: $34,727
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 28.1%
> Pct. protected land: 10.2%

Spain’s relatively clean energy profile sets it apart from most other countries. Approximately 21% of Spain’s total energy use comes from nuclear and other alternative sources. In comparison, nuclear and alternative energy accounts for only about 12.3% of the United States’ energy mix. The country has also managed to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by 21% since 1969. U.S. fossil fuels reliance, on the other hand, fell by only 14% over the same period.