Special Report

Countries Doing the Most and Least to Protect the Environment

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9. Trinidad and Tobago
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 100.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 2.0%
> GDP per capita: $28,763

A regional leader in environmental protection, Trinidad and Tobago is the only Caribbean nation to rank on this list. Economic growth has historically been driven by environmentally harmful means, such as mining and deforestation. Now the country is shifting toward more environmentally sustainable growth practices, which the island nation’s government acknowledges is essential for both businesses and communities in the country.

The government is leading by example, pledging to conserve resources and energy, adhere to sustainable waste management practices, reduce pollution, and reduce output of harmful greenhouse gases. The presence of dangerous fine particulate air pollution declined by 13.3% in the country from 1990 to 2016.

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8. Bulgaria
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 99.9%
> Area with gov. protection: 28.3%
> GDP per capita: $18,606

Since joining the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria has made significant strides toward developing an environmentally sustainable economy, in accordance with EU directives, including working towards the goal of 16% renewable energy by 2020. Results are already evident. The presence of dangerous PM2.5 air pollution declined by 43.3% in the country from 1990 to 2016.

The Bulgarian government also protects much of its land. Over 28% of the country’s lands are reserves with limited public access like national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, protected landscapes, and areas managed for sustainable use.

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7. United States
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 3.3%
> Area with gov. protection: 26.3%
> GDP per capita: $54,471

Despite the internationally criticized 2017 decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement — a multinational accord to collectively combat global warming — the U.S. ranks among the 10 countries doing the most to protect the environment. Over a quarter of U.S. territory is protected reserves with limited public access like national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, and areas managed for sustainable use, a larger share than most countries. Additionally, only 3.3% of the U.S. population are exposed to unsafe levels of air pollution.

Under the Trump Administration’s 2020 budget proposal, funding for the Environmental Protection Agency will be slashed by 31%. Should these cuts take effect, the U.S. may not remain one of the global leaders in environmental protection for long.

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6. Canada
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 0.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 6.5%
> GDP per capita: $44,018

Though only 6.5% of the terrestrial and marine areas are protected in Canada, that’s still a lot of area when you take into consideration it is the second largest country on the globe in landmass. The country comprises burgeoning urban areas, the fragile Arctic Circle, and a variety of terrains in between. Environmental achievements include supporting climate-friendly technology leading to energy efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainable urban transportation; reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and providing biodiversity planning and protection for land and sea. Challenges include rapid warming in the formerly frozen-solid north, the impact of air pollution on wildlife, vegetation, water and soil, and acid rain.

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5. Australia
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 24.9%
> Area with gov. protection: 29.7%
> GDP per capita: $44,643

Right behind its neighbor New Zealand, Australia has the second highest percentage of protected terrestrial and marine areas of countries on this list. There was, however, an 8.4% increase in consumption emissions between 2006 and 2016 and a 3.2% hike in carbon emissions from fossil fuel and cement production. Earlier this year, a report by the OECD condemned Australia’s record on emissions and declared the country not on the right path to meet its 2030 goals under the Paris agreement. But the country has also been cited for its environmental achievements, including its plastic bag ban, its strategy to halve food waste, and the construction of the world’s largest lithium battery to more effectively store wind energy.