Special Report

Countries Doing the Most and Least to Protect the Environment

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4. New Zealand
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 0.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 30.5%
> GDP per capita: $36,013

Watching “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” movies may be as close as many of us will get to enjoying New Zealand’s pristine air, but apparently those sparkling, clean skies are real and not CGI, as evidenced by the 0% of the population exposed to unsafe fine particle air pollution levels. Almost one-third of the terrestrial and marine area is protected, the highest share among the top 15 countries doing the most to protect the environment. New Zealand met targets for reducing greenhouse emissions set under the first Kyoto Protocol, and it has set additional reduction goals for 2020, 2030, and 2050. Still, even if you’re doing a great job, there’s always room for improvement. The WWF notes that deforestation, soil erosion, and destruction of wildlife habitats continue to be problems.

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3. Norway
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 2.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 5.1%
> GDP per capita: $64,965

Thanks to an abundance of hydro power, Norway’s power system is practically 100% renewable. Nevertheless, the northern nation has somewhat higher per capita greenhouse emissions than other countries in Europe and Asia. Norway, which signed the Kyoto Protocol, hopes to reduce that number in the coming year. Carbon neutrality by 2050 is another goal. With that said, only 5.1% of the terrestrial and marine areas in Norway are protected, among the lowest percentages of the 15 countries doing the most to protect the environment.

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2. Finland
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 0.0%
> Area with gov. protection: 14.2%
> GDP per capita: $41,018

Finland is known as one of the most environmentally friendly countries on Earth thanks largely to its almost unbelievable achievement of having 0% of its population exposed to unsafe levels of fine particle air pollution, according to the WHO. One of the world’s wealthiest industrialized countries, Finland clearly has the wherewithal to support vigorous green policies, aiming to anticipate risks and prevent damage before any harm is done. Ongoing environmental goals include reducing per capita greenhouse emissions, significantly increasing the use of renewable energy, and protecting forest and farmland habitats.

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1. Denmark
> Pop. exposed to unsafe air pollution levels: 56.9%
> Area with gov. protection: 17.9%
> GDP per capita: $47,270

Denmark already ranked high when we reported on this topic in 2017. The country has continued to make strides forward, in air quality in particular. On the previous report, 78.8% of the population was exposed to unsafe levels of fine particle air pollution; now, the figure has dropped to 56.9%. Denmark tops the list of countries doing the most to protect the environment, and continues to set ambitious goals, among them having at least half its energy consumption come from renewables by 2030 and to be independent of fossil fuels by 2050.