The most sustainable countries in the world are Iceland, Switzerland, Costa Rica, Sweden, Norway, Mauritious, France, Austria, Cuba, and Colombia; at least according to Yale and Columbia Universities.
The recently released Environmental Performance Index 2010 is a comprehensive sustainability rating system where 163 countries were judged based on 25 stringent sustainability performance indicators. The outcomes of the research are summarized in this article and each country is discussed in brief to highlight some of the factors that make them the most sustainable countries in the world.
Download the sustainability data used to make this chart.
Iceland is one of the most sustainable countries in the world and it is likely that the country will continue to excel in a variety of environmental management areas. Some of the areas that the EPI highlights about this sustainable country are a low environmental burden of disease, low air pollution, high water quality for both humans and in ecosystems, pristine forests and effective management of timber reserves, and an effective climate change policy.
In Icelandic politics the sustainability performance initiatives are driven by two distinct governmental bodies, which include the Environment Agency of Iceland and Iceland's Ministry for the Environment. Some of the most effective policies that make Iceland a relatively sustainable country are the Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Act from 2007 and the Nature Conservation Act, which was passed in 1999.
High up in the Alps and smack dab in the middle of the EU lies Switzerland - a sustainable country. The history of Switzerland can be told from a vantage point of being very resource constrained, but the innovative policies and advanced environmental management practices in Switzerland have propelled them into becoming one of the most sustainable countries in the world.
One of the challenges for Switzerland in remaining one of the most sustainable countries are the rapidly melting glaciers in the alps. The glaciers are melting due to global warming and the melt water is essential to the Swiss agriculture system.
Thirty-one percent of Switzerland is covered in woods and close to 100k jobs are directly related to the vast timber resource. In general Switzerland is very resource poor, but they have an abundance of wood, so the culture has evolved to use this resource in many products including their homes, which are historically all built from wood.
The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment is the governmental body that helps make this sustainable country thrive. The are responsible for a number of areas that enhance the sustainability performance for the small country such as climate change, biodiversity, air, and hydrology. The office also maintains a comprehensive and extremely interesting database of dozens of environmental performance indicators that assess trends and give the current state of affairs for some of the primary drivers that make Switzerland a sustainable country.
Beautiful Costa Rica is well known as a haven of eco tourism for their dense rain forests and beautiful beaches, but many travelers may not be aware that it is also one of the most sustainable countries in the world. The environmental performance of this sustainable country is driven through both the Ministry of Environment, Energy, and Telecommunications and the governments massive conservation efforts under their national parks program.
Costa Rica is one of the most sustainable countries because of its dedication to their forest and water systems in the country. By focusing on these environmental management aspects, they've been able to to improve their sustainability performance in a number of areas that help them to maintain they're more than 10k species of plants and 800+ species of butterflies found in the 10% of protected areas.
What makes Sweden one of the most sustainable countries in the world? As shown in the chart above, Sweden's environmental performance is top-notch in the areas of environmental health, forestry, and water management.
Their are a number of government agencies in Sweden that help to make it a sustainable country. These include the Ministry of the Environment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Chemicals Agency, the National Board of Housing, Building, and Planning, who is responsible for all land and water management, and the Environmental Objectives Portal.
It may prove difficult in time for Sweden to remain in the top ten most sustainable countries if they are not able to meet their climate obligations as noted here. However, the Swedish government has set an ambitious goal of having zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Norway has earned it's way onto the list of the most sustainable countries in the world because of its active management management regimes and progressive environmental policies. However, Norwegians have a very high level of affluence and it may prove difficult to attain the status of a sustainable country if the trending shown in the following chart continues.
The chart shows that purchases abroad and purchases of "other goods and services" has increased dramatically over the last four decades. Consumption patterns like this are clearly not sustainable and, if continued, could jepoardize Norway's ranking as one of the most sustainable countries.
The Climate and Pollution Agency under the direction of the Norwegian Ministry of the Environment maintains a very interesting database of environmental performance indicators and provides more information on the environmental performance of this sustainable country.
You may not know a lot about this sustainable country, but Mauritius is an over-achiever in the environmental management sector, thus becoming one of the most sustainable countries globally. Mauritius' environmental performance in the areas of fisheries, forests, and agriculture has helped propel them into the top rankings.
The Mauritius Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development has played an integral role in making Mauritius a sustainable country and you can find a considerable amount of information on the environmental management regime via their helpful web portal.
One of the more innovative policies that the country has championed is the environmental protection fee, which is payable at the point of entry to the country covers devices like cell phone and pneumatic tires.
A sustainable bastion of the EU, France has achieved high ranking in the environmental performance index for somewhat controversial reasons. It's notable nuclear program hasn't helped distinguish the France as one of the most sustainable countries in the area of climate change, despite the fact that they have significantly reduced this sustainable country's greenhouse gas emissions.
France has aggressive legislation that helps to keep the air quality high for humans and an active fisheries management program that ranks high. Many of Frances environmental performance initiatives are managed by the Ministry of Sustainable Development.
Austria is another sustainable country whose heritage and environmental performance is inextricably linked to the European Alps. Most sustainable countries share one thing in common -- they are small and Austria is no exception to this norm. Austria is only 84k square kilometers and hosts a population of almost 8 million people. Of this area, 46% is forested land.
The geographic context of the forests and mountains has mandated Austria to manage the land very carefully for many decades. The Federal Environment Agency plays a critical role when it comes to making sure that the forest and fisheries are sustainably managed.
Many people don't think of Cuba as one of the most sustainable countries, but persistent management of the natural resources and habitats since 1981 has earned it the title of "sustainable country". Cuba managed to pass what is known as Law 33 in 1981 to start a long process of transforming the environmental performance of the country.
Cuba was the only country in the world rated as having "sustainable development" in the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report 2006 because they met the two underlying criteria of the Human Development Index and the "Ecological Footprint".
The Ministry of Science, Technology, and the Environment is the primary body that oversees the environmental management of the country.
Most sustainable countries are resource constrained in many ways, but Colombia is anything but that, as they boast being the second most biologically diverse country in the world (10% of global total). Therefore, managing the sustainability of Colombia should be a key priority for the entire planet.
Unfortunately, as recently as the early 2000's Colombia was losing up to 200k hectares of natural forest every year. However, you can see that part of the reason that Colombia is a sustainable country now is the fact that they rate very highly in the forest area of the environmental performance index (see table above).
The Ministry of Environment, Housing and Territorial Development plays a principle role in determining the environmental management regimes in this sustainable country. They also keep an up-to-date legislative agenda on their portal for more detailed information.
Additional Sustainable Country Resources