Israel is in 49th place in environmental performance, more or less in the middle of the world’s countries, and below Ukraine, Serbia, Cuba and Brazil. At the bottom of the list are the very poor countries or those where the central government does not function and civil war is at hand, including Afghanistan and Somalia.
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This information reflects the findings of the biennial Environmental Performance Index publicized by Yale University during the World Economic Forum held last week in Davos, Switzerland. The report includes a ranking of 180 countries according to the quality of their environmental performance, and the four leaders are Scandinavian countries.
All over the world the areas of nature reserves increased, as did access to safe water. But every year hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of forested areas are still destroyed, and in almost a quarter of the countries in the world there are still no facilities for purifying sewage.
According to the report, air pollution has become a more significant cause of mortality than polluted water sources. In 2013 over 5 million people died worldwide as a result of exposure to pollution inside buildings, which is caused by heating and cooking, and from environmental pollution from transport, industry and electricity production. On the other hand, 1.24 million people died from exposure to polluted water. Half the people in China and South Korea live in an environment in which the levels of pollution are above the threshold set by the World Health Organization, and in India the rate is 75 percent of the population. It is estimated that every fifth death in China is caused by air pollution. Every day about 4,000 people in the country die from it.
Israel was ranked in the high fourth place in the index of access to high-quality water. On the other hand, it was in 136th place in air quality. One of the means of assessment used in this index is the concentration of polluting particles. It should be noted that in Israel the source of these particles is natural, so that this index apparently shortchanges Israel in its ranking. Israel also received a very low ranking, 121, in the index of nature preservation and protection of species in danger of extinction.
Two years ago Israel was in 61st place, and at the beginning of the decade in 66th place. This year it returned to its ranking of eight years ago.
While there was a decline in Israel’s performance in regard to air pollution, according to the index there was an improvement in areas such as management of water sources and efficient use of fertilizers in agriculture.
In recent years the number of people without access to safe drinking water has declined, but almost 3 billion people still have no access to such water or to means of sanitation. In one fifth of the countries there are no facilities for purifying sewage and 80 percent of all the sewage worldwide comes to the environment without purification. Only one fifth of the countries have implemented steps to streamline the use of fertilizers such as nitrogen, which exacerbate the problems of water pollution. It is estimated that pollution originating in nitrogen-based fertilizers causes annual damage to the European Union countries of at least 70 billion euros.
About 15 percent of the land areas in the world are protected by over 200,000 nature reserves of various types, half of them in Europe (in terms of number, not area). But only 8.4 percent of the marine areas have protected status. About one third of the fishing areas worldwide are overexploited, and in 2014 forested areas almost double the size of Peru were lost. In the past two decades South Africa lost 17 percent of its forested areas while Paraguay leads the world with its negative balance. From 2000 to 2014 it lost about a quarter of its forested area. Brazil promised in the context of the climate change agreement in Paris to stop illegal deforestation in the Amazon Basin by 2030. But last year the amount of deforestation in the region increased by 16 percent compared to the previous year.
The list of countries with the best environmental performance is led by Finland. The index was determined based on points given for various aspects of environmental protection. Finland received a very high score thanks to its commitment, which is anchored in law, to consume 38 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Countries such as Switzerland, Germany and South Korea, which were at the top of the 2014 index, are ranked lower this time (Switzerland dropped from first to 14th place) because the report uses stricter indexes to test air quality in each country.