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Ranking countries by their environmental impact
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Ranking countries by their environmental impact


Environmental protection is critical to maintain ecosystem services essential for human well-being. It is important to be able …

Environmental protection is critical to maintain ecosystem services essential for human well-being. It is important to be able
to rank countries by their environmental impact so that poor performers as well as policy ‘models’ can be identified. We
provide novel metrics of country-specific environmental impact ranks – one proportional to total resource availability per
country and an absolute (total) measure of impact – that explicitly avoid incorporating confounding human health or
economic indicators. Our rankings are based on natural forest loss, habitat conversion, marine captures, fertilizer use, water
pollution, carbon emissions and species threat, although many other variables were excluded due to a lack of countryspecific
data. Of 228 countries considered, 179 (proportional) and 171 (absolute) had sufficient data for correlations. The
proportional index ranked Singapore, Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, Thailand, Bahrain, Malaysia, Philippines and Netherlands
as having the highest proportional environmental impact, whereas Brazil, USA, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, India,
Russia, Australia and Peru had the highest absolute impact (i.e., total resource use, emissions and species threatened).
Proportional and absolute environmental impact ranks were correlated, with mainly Asian countries having both high
proportional and absolute impact. Despite weak concordance among the drivers of environmental impact, countries often
perform poorly for different reasons. We found no evidence to support the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis of a
non-linear relationship between impact and per capita wealth, although there was a weak reduction in environmental
impact as per capita wealth increases. Using structural equation models to account for cross-correlation, we found that
increasing wealth was the most important driver of environmental impact. Our results show that the global community not
only has to encourage better environmental performance in less-developed countries, especially those in Asia, there is also a
requirement to focus on the development of environmentally friendly practices in wealthier countries.

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  • Russia has the most extensive forest cover, followed by Brazil, Canada and USAEstimated area of gross forest cover loss at the global scale is 1,011,000 km2, or 3.1 % of year 2000 forest area (0.6% per year from 2000 to 2005)Gross forest cover loss was highest in the boreal biome, with fire accounting for 60 % of that lossThe humid tropics had the second-highest gross forest cover loss, due mainly to broad-scale clearing for agriculture in Brazil, Indonesia and MalaysiaWhen expressed as proportion lost from the 2000 extent estimates, the humid tropics is the least disturbedThe Amazon interior is the largest remaining ‘intact’ forest, followed by the Congo basinThe dry tropics has the 3rd-highest gross forest cover loss, with Australia, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay accounting for most of thisAlthough the temperate biome had the lowest forest cover (due mainly to forest clearances long, long ago), it had the 2nd-highest proportional gross forest cover lossNorth America has the greatest area of gross forest cover loss, followed by Asia and South AmericaNorth America alone accounts for ~ 30 % of global gross forest cover loss, and has the highest proportional gross forest cover loss at 5.1 %Brazil has the highest gross national forest cover loss of any nationIndonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are next in line for tropical countriesUSA has the highest proportional global forest cover loss since 2000Despite previous estimates suggesting that Canada has had little forest loss, the new estimates place it second in terms of gross forest cover loss only to Brazil
  • > 19,000 species (7 % of all Eudicots)Papilionoideae (73 %), Caesalpinioideae (10 %), Mimosoideae (17 %)36 tribes; 650 generaall continents; all terrestrial biomesdwarf herbs to large treeshigh economic importance (food, fodder, medicine)


  • 1. Ranking countries by their environmental impact
    Corey J. A. Bradshaw1,2, Xingli Giam3, Navjot S. Sodhi3
    1THE ENVIRONMENT INSTITUTE, University of Adelaide; 2South Australian Research & Development Institute
    3Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore
  • 2.
    • > 4 million protists
    • 3. 16600 protozoa
    • 4. 75000-300000helminth parasites
    • 5. 1.5million fungi
    • 6. 320000 plants
    • 7. 4-6 million arthropods
    • 8. > 6500 amphibians
    • 9. > 30000 fishes
    • 10. 10000 birds
    • 11. > 5000 mammals
  • 99 % of ALL species that have ever existed...
    species lifespan = 1-10 M years
    Ordovician (490-443 MYA)
    Devonian (417-354 MYA)
    Permian (299-250 MYA)
    Triassic (251-200 MYA)
    Cretaceous (146-64 MYA)
    extinction rate 100-10000× background
    © Tiantian Zhang,
    Crutzen 2002 Nature 415:23; Bradshaw & Brook 2009 J Cosmol2:221-229
  • 12. Bradshaw et al. 2009 Trends Ecol Evol24:541-548
    Bradshaw et al. 2009 Front Ecol Environ 7:79-87
    • 1,011,000 km2 lost 2000-2005 (3.1 %; 0.6 %/year)
    • 13. highest in boreal biome (60 %)
    • 14. humid tropics next (Brazil, Indonesia, Malaysia)
    • 15. dry tropics next highest (Australia, Brazil, Argentina)
    • 16. N.A. greatest proportional lost by continent
    • 17. Nationally, Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, DR Congo
    Hansen et al. 2010 PNAS
    Barson et al. 2000 Land Cover
    Change in Australia, Bur RurSci
    © A. Prokopec
    • 21 % of all known mammals
    • 19. 30 % of all known amphibians
    • 20. 12 % of all known birds
    • 21. 35 % of conifers & cycads
    • 22. 17 % of sharks
    • 23. 27 % of reef-building corals
    threatened with extinction
  • 24.
  • 25. Ecology-Life History
    range(number of FAO Fishing Areas),
    •  risk for sharks with small range size
    • 26. similar for teleosts with slightly larger ranges
    •  threat risk for reef sharks
    • 27. and for pelagic teleosts
    environmental temperature regime
    •  risk for deepwater sharks
    • 28.  risk deepwater teleosts
    Field et al. 2009 Advances in Marine Biology 56:275-363
  • 29. Human threats
    fisheries interest
    • no influence for sharks or teleosts
    • no influence for sharks or teleosts
    dangerous to humans
    • decreased threat for dangerous sharks
    Field et al. 2009 Advances in Marine Biology 56:275-363
  • 30. Mesopredator Release
    • ecosystems unbalanced by reduction of higher trophic-level predators exerting ‘top-down’ control on abundance of species occupying lower trophic levels
    • 31. based on earlier theory (in 1980s)
    Soulé et al. 1988 ConservBiol2:75; Soulé & Crooks 1999 Nature 400:563
  • 32.
    • dingo-cat-marsupial
    • 33. lynx-fox-hare
    • 34. shark-ray-scallop
    Johnson et al. 2007 Proc R Soc B 274:341; Elmhagen et al. 2010 J Anim Ecol; Myers et al. 2007 Science 315:1846
  • 35. Sodhi et al. 2008 PLoS One 3:e1636
  • 36. Bradshaw et al. 2008 J Ecol 96:869-883
  • 37. Sodhi, Brook & Bradshaw 2007 Tropical Conservation Biology Wiley-Blackwell
    log % forest remaining (km-2)
    log human population density (km-2)
  • 38. © C. Sekerçioglu
  • 39. Halpern et al. 2008 Science 319:948-952
  • 40. invasive species and starfish outbreaks
    deforestation, soil erosion, sediment & nutrient loading
    destructive fishing practices
  • 41.
  • 42. Field et al. 2009 Fish & Fisheries 10:323-328
  • 43. Evil quartet
    habitat destruction
    introduced species
    extinction cascades
    Diamond 1984 Extinctions Chicago University Press
  • 44. Brook et al. 2008 Trends Ecol Evol25:453-460
  • 45. Evil quintet
    Evil sextet
    habitat destruction
    introduced species
    extinction cascades
    climate change
    Brook et al. 2008 Trends Ecol Evol25:453-460
  • 46. justification to maintain healthy ecosystems is intangible because it seems unrelated to personal well-being
    © Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  • 47. reduce desertification
    maintain soils
    crop pollination
    seed dispersal
    food provision
    water purification
    fuel provision
    fibre provision
    climate regulation
    flood regulation
    disease regulation
    waste decomposition/detoxification
    nutrient cycling
    soil formation
    primary production
    pharmaceutical sources
    cultural appreciation (aesthetic, spiritual, educational, recreational…)
    €153 billion/year
    fisheries: €50 billion/year
    • €50 billion lost/year
    • 48. land-based ecosystem loss €545 billion by 2010
    • 49. > €14 trillion/year lost by 2050
    Cost of Policy Inaction (COPI):
    The case of not meeting the 2010 biodiversity target.
    European Commission
  • 50. 1990-2000
    • ~100,000 people killed
    • 51. 320 million people displaced
    • 52. total reported damages > US$1151 billion
    Bradshaw et al. 2007 Glob Change Biol13:2379-2395
  • 53.
    • decades of warning
    • 54. human population 6.8 B; 9-10 B by 2050
    • 55. competition for resources – famine, wars
    • 56. loss of basic ecosystem services
    • 57. fundamental worldwide shifts in policy required
    • 58. identifying relative country degradation
    • 59. highlight nations needing assistance
    • 60. better-performing nations as model governance structures
  • City Development Index
    Ecological Footprint
    Environmental Performance Index
    Environmental Sustainability Index
    Genuine Savings Index
    Human Development Index
    Living Planet Index
    Well-Being Index
    Environmental Impact Rank
    Böhringer & Joachim 2007 Ecol Econ 63:1-8
  • 61.
    • inability to describe complexity of ‘sustainability’
    • 62. not comprehensive
    • 63. mix environmental, economic and health data
    • 64. often subjective combinations, weightings, normalisation
    • 65. not available for large sample of nations
    • 66. not consistent
  • Environmental Performance Index
  • 67. provide rank of proportional environmental impact
    provide rank of total (absolute) resource use
    examine concordance among measures of environmental impact within composite indices
    determine correlation between ranks and existing indices of environmental performance;
    test for correlations between ranks and population size, governance quality and wealth
    test EKC hypothesis (impact nonlinearly related to per-capita wealth)
    Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
    environmental damage
    per capita prosperity
  • 69.
    • natural forest loss
    2005-1990 D/ha
    • natural habitat conversion
    human-modified landcover/total landcover
    • marine captures
    1990-2005 fish, whales, seals/EEZ km
    • fertiliser use
    NPK/ha arable land
    • water pollution
    biochemical oxygen demand/total renewable water resources
    • carbon emissions
    forestry, land-use change, fossil fuels/km2
    • biodiversity threat
    Red List threatened birds, mammals, amphibians/listed species
    Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
  • 70. CONCORDANCE: Kendall’s W = 0.26
  • 71. CONCORDANCE: Kendall’s W = 0.25
  • 72. Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
  • 73. “I anticipate that the anti-science crowd will be screeching and howling with indignation when they read this one.”
    “This is such BS, China is WAY worse then the U.S.”
    “This researcher is a waste ...”
    “This article is crap.”
    “Can we really depend on some study when the Chinese could have funded this or maybe some group who was angry at the US and Brazil for whatever? I highly doubt the accuracy of the findings. Looks like the Treehuggers are at it again.”
    “Shame on you Australia !!! I guess your dying great Barrior[sic] reef is America's fault too!!!!”
    “here we go again. I'm so frickin' sick of these watermelons (green on the outside, red (communist) on the inside) treehuggers. The only f*^king green I care about is made of paper and folds.”
  • 74.
  • 75. Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
  • 76.
  • 77. Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
    environmental damage
    per capita prosperity
    Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
  • 79. Bradshaw et al. 2010 PLoS One 5:e10440
  • 80. ©
  • 81. more direct measure of environmental impact than ‘sustainability’
    purpose of index depends on its ultimate application
    • proportional better reflects performance relative to economic opportunity
    • 82. absolute better reflects country’s contribution to global environmental degradation
    proportional-absolute correlation: citizens’ attitude reflected globally
    Asian countries dominate for high impact
    minor gains with increasing wealth overwhelmed (no EKC)
    No leakage considered – wealth effects likely much larger
  • 83. © WWF
  • 84.
    • XingliGiam
    Princeton University, USA
    • Navjot S. Sodhi
    National University of Singapore