The UAE has been listed as the top Middle Eastern nation in the Environmental Performance Index published by Yale and Columbia universities.
Ranking countries on environmental sustainability, the index puts the UAE in joint 39th place globally out of 180 nations, with Denmark topping the list and India coming last.
The index ranks countries on performance indicators that consider the health of their environment, how they enhance or damage ecosystems, and their efforts to combat climate change.
What it takes to be top
“High-scoring countries exhibit long-standing and continuing investments in policies that protect environmental health, preserve biodiversity and habitat, conserve natural resources, and decouple greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth,” the index report states.
The UAE’s overall score is 52.4 out of 100, which compares to 77.9 for Denmark and 18.9 for India, and places it first out of 16 countries from the “Greater Middle East”.
The score is a weighted average of 40 categories, and in five of these — marine protected areas, wetland loss, household solid fuels, black carbon growth rate and CO2 from land cover — the UAE achieves a maximum 100.
A high score of 80.3 is awarded for biodiversity, which averages performance across a range of categories, including some that look at how much of the country’s land habitats are in protected areas.
Low scores include just 11.7 for the marine trophic index (MTI), which means that, among the fish and other marine organisms caught, an increasing number are smaller species from lower down the food chain.
“If MTI decreases over time, this may be due to countries depleting stocks of higher level fish and resorting to lower level taxa, also known as ‘fishing down the food web’,” the EPI states in a briefing document.
The UAE’s worst score, 3.4, is for PM2.5 pollution, which indicates that the air contains high levels of particulate matter up to 2.5 micrometres in diameter.
Thought to increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and strokes, among other health effects, particulate matter in the UAE comes from sources including oil production and refining, traffic, mineral dust and shipping.
The UAE has in a past had a mixed performance in international environmental indices. The World Wide Fund For Nature’s Living Planet Report, for example, has several times ranked the UAE as having the highest per capita environmental footprint in the world. This is partly because the extreme climate leads to heavy use of air conditioning.
Also, the country’s rapid urbanisation has been shown to have had a harmful effect on some native wildlife, such as reptile species, while coastal development has affected coral reefs.
Efforts have been made, however, to promote coral growth by, for example, sinking along the coast rock barriers with coral species cultivated on them.
Around the region
Other countries listed in the EPI’s “Greater Middle East” region include Israel, in 57th place, Jordan, in joint 81st place, Kuwait, in joint 87th place, and Bahrain in 90th place.
Tunisia is ranked 96th, Saudi Arabia is 109th, Egypt is joint 127th, Iran is in 133rd position, Qatar comes 137th, Lebanon 142nd, Oman joint 149th, Algeria joint 155th, Morocco joint 160th, Iraq 169th and, in last place for the region, Sudan is in 171st place.
“Many bottom-tier countries face war and other sources of unrest as well as a lack of financial resources to invest in environmental infrastructure,” the report says.
It adds that “only a handful of countries”, including Denmark and the UK, which is ranked second overall, are set to achieve greenhouse gas neutrality by 2050, a key aim if temperature increases are to be kept within safe limits.
Many other nations, including large countries such as China, India and Russia are, the report says, “headed in the wrong direction”, with greenhouse gas emissions “rapidly rising”. India, in last place, is described as having “low scores across a range of critical issues”.
“Deteriorating air quality and rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions pose especially urgent challenges,” the report summary says of India, which is expected to become the world’s most populous nation within the next decade.
Produced by the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University, and Columbia University’s Centre for International Earth Science Information Network, the Environmental Performance index is funded by the McCall MacBain Foundation and is published every two years.
Data comes from research institutions, academia, international organisations and government agencies, although generally data is not accepted directly from governments.