The environment is a big and serious issue, but it is not as bad as you might believe when thinking about the condition of our planet. Yes, there are extremely badly polluted places on our Earth (see Most Polluted Cities) that cry out to heaven for vengeance, but fortunately, some areas and even entire countries where the air is fresh and invisible ( as it is supposed to be), the water stays crystal blue (and not poisonous and dark) do exist around the globe.
The Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network and Yale University's Center for Environmental Law and Policy have published a list of the world's cleanest countries. The Environmental Performance Index (EPI), created by the universities, ranks the countries by such indicators as polices on environmental health, air pollution, climate change, water resources, productive natural resources, as well as biodiversity and habitat.
Here we present ten (out of 149 surveyed countries) cleanest and eco friendly states:
Tree and lavender fields. By vathiman
Apparently, European states account for 14 of the top 20 world's cleanest countries, and France, with its green policy, ranks tenth on this eco list. Climate change is one of the biggest issues for the French government and therefore, various steps have been taken in order to keep the country clean and green. France has ratified the Kyoto Protocol and is committed to reduce its greenhouse gases emission by 5.2% from the 1990 level. In 2004, France closed down its last coal mine, and now gets 80% of its electricity from nuclear power, so CO2 emissions are relatively low.
Moreover, the green policy is also reflected in such actions as public system improvement - fast trains, metros, bike programs, introducing taxes on cars, packaging, plastic products, electronic devices, and batteries, suspending GM commercial crops and investing in new energy sources.
Coffee plant. Colombia. By anthrotect
According to the ranking, Colombia is the second cleanest country in the Americas and world's ninth cleanest state. After years of deforestation linked to the conversion of large areas to illegal coca plantations and oil palm plantations, the country is now moving toward ecological standpoints by supporting the eco-friendly agricultural policies. The country scored 99.9 of EPI index in the category of cropland policy - around 40% of agriculture areas remain uncultivated at any given time so the soil is allowed to lie fallow.
For many years, globetrotters were warned against traveling to Colombia due to the armed conflict, drug violence and kidnappings, but today the country gets back on the track, especially thanks to improving security situation. Among main travelers' magnets is the country's abundant nature, amazing biodiversity, breathtaking landscapes of glaciers, rain forests and clean, empty beaches.
Super clean and neat streets of Riga, Latvia. By PnP!
Latvia, a tiny Baltic country, is one of the few states that actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Around 35,000 sq km of the country is occupied by forests, mires and peat bogs that work like a filter converting carbon dioxide to biomass. The process is called "CO2 sequestration" and it is working really well in Latvia as the country boasts the lowest CO2 emission per capita among the European Union states. Latvia also has a very sufficient policy related to renewable natural sources, which is second best after Sweden.
Riga, the capital of Latvia, is considered to be the cleanest city in Europe. The city's main areas as well as its environs are litter-free and neat, which is a big achievement taking into consideration the fact that Riga, with one million inhabitants, is home to nearly half of Latvia's total population.
7. New Zealand
Eco event, part of International Day of Climate Action, New Zealand. By 350.org
New Zealand is green, wild and sparsely populated. The country's natural treasures - lakes, coasts, and mountains - are protected by a number of environmental policies and programs. Therefore, the country scored really high (84.9) on the effective conservation index in contrast to other countries in the region that showed only around 30 of EPI index.
In the area of emissions related problems New Zealand needs to improve, though. Unfortunately the country's greenhouse gas emissions are increasing - in 2007 the emission was 22% higher then it was in 1990. The transport sector is the main culprit - currently the emissions from this sector account for 19% of New Zealand's total greenhouse gas output. The country signed the Kyoto Protocol, so if the levels of emissions exceed the Protocol's limits, New Zealand will have to take responsibility for any excess emissions.
Pitztal Glacier and Lake Rifflsee in Austria. By CzechR
In the last two decades Austria, a tiny landlocked country covered with enormous impressive Alps, has been facing a number of ecological problems. Due to its location between a few large European countries, Austria has always been a land of transit. Traffic on the country's superhighways increased from 600,000 vehicles a year in 1970s to around 10 million a year in 1990s. Also around 40% of Austria's forests was damaged by emissions and acid rain by 1991.
As a result, the country has started implementing various programs and polices concerning environmental protection. Today, Austria produces more than half of its electricity by hydropower. 62.89% of the electricity supply comes from renewable energy sources such as wind, hydropower, solar and biomass power plants.
5. Costa Rica
Volcan Arenal, La Fortuna Costa Rica. By Wha'ppen
Putting Costa Rica in the fifth place on the world's cleanest countries list is quite controversial as according to various other research, the country is not as ecological as the EPI index says. Still Costa Rica scored 97 or more in such categories as forestry, climate change and air pollution. The country has improved especially in the forestry area. Deforestation used to be Costa Rica's main environmental issue - between 1973 and 1989 the country's forest was disappearing by 2.3% each year.
Today, the country is renowned among eco travelers for its biodiversity - Costa Rican nature is wild and abundant. Almost 25% of the country is protected by extensive national park system in order to preserve wild plants and animals. Moreover, this tiny country boasts almost 6% of the world's bio diversity.
Students celebrating Flora's day, Helsinki. Finland. By taivasalla
Wilderness, remoteness, and purity - these three words perfectly describe Finland, the country of endless forest and the land of the thousand lakes. The state is covered by trees in 78% and lakes take up 10% of its area. Moreover, Finland is inhabited by only 5.3 million people (it is the most sparsely populated country in the European Union) so there are not many potential contributors to general pollution.
Despite thriving wood industry, Finnish forests continue to grow thanks to decades of forestry research and environmental policies. Most of the country's paper pulp plants are equipped with filters reducing emissions. Also tap water in Finland is super clean, drinkable and tasty.
The area for improvement is the reduction of air pollution - Finland needs to work a little bit harder in order to meet the limits of the Kyoto Protocol.
Hola Valley. Norway. By jonr
Norway, the remote Scandinavian land of a thousand fjords and islands, always climbs high in various rankings such as "best country to live", "world's richest states", "most peaceful country". EPI also puts the country at the top of its eco list, giving it the overall score of 93.1 - just like Sweden. Norway's quality of water, sanitation or ozone levels get 100 of EPI and almost all of its electricity is generated by hydro power plants.
Nevertheless, Norway finds it difficult to meet the Kyoto Protocol levels. At present, the country's Kyoto target for 2008 - 2012 is to limit its greenhouse gas emissions to the level of no more than 1% higher than in 1990.
Donsö island settlement in the Gothenburg archipelago. Sweden. By Sweden.se
Without dispute the Scandinavian countries are among the cleanest in the world, and Sweden is just another example of a state where environmental issues are not being ignored or neglected. The country also scored 93.1 and together with Norway its shares the position of the runner-up on the list of the world's greenest countries.
In contrast to Norway, however, Sweden managed to meet the obligations laid out by the Kyoto Protocol and between 1990 and 2003 it has been the only Nordic nation that reduced its emissions. In 2008, another index (Climate Change Performance Index), which compared 57 countries that jointly emit around 90% of the world's annual emission of carbon dioxide, also showed that Sweden has done the most of any surveyed states for reducing the output of greenhouse gases.
Samnaun, Switzerland. By wYnand!
Despite the fact that the Swiss environment is under constant pressure from pollutions coming from industry, agriculture, transport and tourism, the country scored 95.5 of an environmental performance index (EPI), and as much as a 100 in areas such as sanitation and water quality, pesticide regulation or forestry. Switzerland is also super active with regard to recycling and anti-littering regulations. Moreover, the quality of Swiss air is among the best in Europe. The state has managed to meet all its national and international commitments to emission reduction.
As an alpine country, Switzerland is very sensitive to climate change - delicate valleys and mountainous regions are particularly fragile, so no wonder the state does its best to protect its precious environment.