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Global Footprints

May 6, 2010

AUSTRALIA ranks among the world’s 10 worst countries for environmental impact, according to research that found the richer a country, the greater its environmental footprint.

Published in the science journal PLoS ONE yesterday, research led by Professor Corey Bradshaw, of the University of Adelaide’s environment institute, found Australia’s carbon emissions, rate of species threat and natural forest loss were the greatest contributors to its ninth-place ranking.

Countries were measured on a range of indicators, including fertiliser use, natural forest loss, habitat conservation, fisheries and other marine captures, water pollution, carbon emissions and species threat.

Professor Bradshaw said in many cases there was a link. ”If you’re clearing a lot of forests, you tend to also to overharvest in the ocean and use a lot of fertilisers.”

The 10 countries with the worst global footprint were Brazil, the US, China, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, India, Russia, Australia and Peru.

Professor Bradshaw said while he was not surprised that the US and China were in the top 10, he was surprised that a relatively poor country such as Brazil took out the top spot.

”The wealthier you are, the more damage you do, on average,” he said. ”It’s just a function of human nature. Growth is the be-all and end-all for all economies around the world, and if you’re not growing economically, you’re stagnant, and therefore that’s a bad thing and governments get sacked. So we have a system built around increasing our consumption rates, and that’s unsustainable in the long term.”

Unlike other rankings, the study did not include human health and economic data, instead focusing exclusively on environmental indicators.

Professor Bradshaw said while Australia had few forests to start with, land clearing had removed more than half of them since European settlement.

Released in the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity, the study also indicates that Australia has the highest mammalian extinction rate in the world, largely due to introduced species such as foxes, cats and rats, and habitat loss. ”And we are one of the highest per capita water users and carbon emitters in the world,” Professor Bradshaw said.

The study, in collaboration with the National University of Singapore and Princeton University, also developed a separate ranking using a proportional environmental impact index, which measured impact against resource availability. On that scale, the 10 worst countries were Singapore, Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Japan, Thailand, Bahrain, Malaysia, the Philippines and the Netherlands.

Professor Bradshaw said the better-ranked countries were small places such as Cape Verde, Swaziland, Niger and Grenada.

”They haven’t wiped out all their forests but they live well below what we’d consider poverty,” he said. ”We have things to learn from these countries in terms of consumption and in reducing our consumption.”

Source: The Age

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