A new list ranking 149 countries by environmental performance was released by a team of respected environmental experts Wednesday amid growing international concerns about climate change.
Switzerland topped the global list, followed by Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Costa Rica to round off the top five. Mali, Mauritania, Sierra Leone, Angola, and Niger held in the bottom five positions.
The 2008 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked countries based on 25 indicators tracked across six established policy categories: environmental health, air pollution, water resources, biodiversity and habitat, productive natural resources, and climate change.
Noticeably, wealthy Scandinavian countries dominated the top of the list, while poor African nations were at the bottom. But there were a few surprises including the poor Central American country of Costa Rica, which came in fifth, and Columbia at number nine – ahead of France, Canada and Germany.
The United States placed 39th, much lower than other industrialized nations such as the United Kingdom (14th) and Japan (21st).
Global leaders, environmental groups and more recently Christian organizations have criticized the United States for failing to do more to combat climate change. The United States is the world's leading emitter of greenhouse gas – gases that contribute to the warming of the earth.
Church World Service, Christian Aid, and signers of the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) have called on the U.S. government to set mandatory emission reductions. Many of these Christians are involved in climate change activism because they say taking care of the earth is good stewardship of God's creation.
"Love God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action," reads the ECI statement.
ECI is signed by influential American pastors including Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life; Leith Anderson, senior pastor of Wooddale Church in St. Paul, Minn. and president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago. They are among over 100 evangelical leaders who agree that global warming is real and mainly caused by human activities.
The World Council of Churches has also long been active on the issue and called for the world to change how it responds to climate change.
The list, produced by experts at Yale University and Columbia University, credited the United States with top-tier performance in several indicators including provision of safe drinking water, sanitation and forest management.
"The United States' performance indicates that the next administration must not ignore the ecosystem impacts of environmental as well as agricultural, energy and water management policies," said Gus Speth, Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. "The EPI's climate change metrics ranking the United States alongside India and China near the bottom of the world's table are a national disgrace."
His EPI teammate Marc Levy, deputy director of Columbia's Center or International Earth Science Information Network, called for more investment in environmental monitoring.
"When a hospital patient's health worsens, doctors increase their monitoring, and we need to do the same for the planet," Levy said.