Central Asia is chock full of beautiful places, pristine prairies and mountain valleys that look as if they’ve never been touched by mankind. But many spots are well-documented environmental wastelands. How does the damage measure up to the rest of the world?
Radio Free Europe has flagged an interesting new ranking of global environmental performance, which shows Central Asian countries crowding the bottom of the list.
Researchers at Yale and Columbia universities have ranked 132 countries for environmental performance based on 10 categories, such as the effects of water and air pollution on human and environmental health, a country’s approach to managing natural resources, and climate change policy. The sixth annual Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked Kazakhstan 129th, Uzbekistan 130th and Turkmenistan 131st. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with the most lackluster economies in the region, fared slightly better at 121 and 101, respectively.
RFE/RL spoke with Angel Hsu, EPI project director at Yale, who said Kazakhstan’s poor performance is explained in part by its emissions record:
"For Kazakhstan, they performed the lowest on climate change and air [quality], and this is due to the fact that they have heavy dependence on coal." According to Hsu, "forty five percent of their carbon dioxide emissions come from the country's coal-fired power plants, and what I found interesting is that they have very little active government policies to expand renewable energy in the electricity sector."
Diversion of rivers and other water management problems – politically-charged issues that plague the region as a whole – also dragged down Kazakhstan's score.
Turkmenistan, ranked in second to last place on the index, struggles mightily with emissions, agricultural runoff, and waste management.
An important measure is also how a country is trending, or moving along the scale. On that count, Azerbaijan (EPI rank 111) is doing very well, ranked second-best in terms of its improvements to environmental conditions. Hsu attributed this to its increasing reliance on clean natural gas. Tajikistan is also trending in the right direction, at number 38.
The United States ranked 49 in the index, but trends at 77. Russia, a “weak performer” at 106, trends dead last at 132 due to “a severe breakdown in environmental health as well as performance declines related to over-fishing and forest loss.”