Vancouver scientists unveil global rankings index measuring economy and ecology

TORONTO – While Canada has an abundance of resources from forests to fisheries to oil sands, scientists suggest that the country is edging closer to the limit of using up our environment.

At the moment, Canada ranks 15th out of 150 countries in the Eco2 Index, which measures the overall economic and ecological “health” of the globe’s nations.

Rashid Sumaila, a University of British Columbia environmental and resource economics professor unveiled his team’s rankings system Monday at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting held this year in Vancouver. UBC partnered with the Global Footprint Network, an international think tank, to compile the list.

This is the first time in 30 years that the AAAS, America’s largest general scientific conference, has been held in Canada.

“We hear that countries are suffering financially every day in the news but that only tells half the story. Piling up ecological deficits is just as concerning as piling up financial deficits – both have consequences for further generations,” Sumaila, who is also UBC’s director of the Fisheries Centre, said.

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The Eco2 Index monitors the extent of which countries damage their ecosystems in an effort to build up their economies.

Sumaila sifted through data collected between 1997 and 2007, including statistics from the World Bank and each nation’s financial deficits, national debt and Gross Domestic Product to grade the countries.

Canada on the global stage

While Canada ranked 15th globally, it placed third among G20 countries (behind Argentina and Brazil), and first among the G8 group.

“This can be attributed largely to our endowment of natural resources, including forests, fisheries and fertile cropland. Our country is vast and our population comparatively small. Many of the top-performing countries included in the study are similarly rich in natural resources,” Sumaila told Global News.

However, Sumaila conceded that through his research a “worrisome trend” emerged.

“Looking at how our ecological footprint has changed over time . . . Canada is moving toward the limit of what our environment can provide for us,” he said.

Our ecological deficit – human demand for the natural ecosystem – is what’s hurting our country. And Canada is affecting other countries’ ecological footprint too, Sumaila pointed out.

Canada produces oil for other nations that, in turn, feel the effects of air pollution and fuel consumption.

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In 2011 alone, Canada produced 477,976 cubic metres of crude oil per day, and 138,010 cubic metres were from the oil sands. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expects oil sands production to more than double by 2015.

There are already two major pipelines in the works, including the Northern Gateway Project and the Keystone XL, which would send bitumen to the Gulf of Texas.

“We can’t simply wash our hands clean of our role in the growing ecological footprints of other countries, especially that of our primary partners in trade to the south,” Sumaila said.

The global rankings

While high-income countries had stable economies, they ranked among the least healthy on the ecological index.

The United States, for example, placed 103rd while the United Kingdom trailed at 129. Japan may have been ahead in the last decade in developing its infrastructure and technology, but it placed 144th when the researchers graded it based on both the economy and ecosystem.

Singapore, a country with a thriving economy, ranked last out of 150 countries sampled. The small Southeast island nation was held back by its ecological deficits, which are the “worst” in the world. It is home to the world’s third-largest oil refinery centre.

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On the other hand, many countries in South America performed well, offering their region’s future generations better financial, food, water and energy security.

Canada, Australia and some southwestern African nations fared well simply because these countries had the advantage of naturally wealthy ecosystems to work with.

Overall, the index showed that scores steadily fell over the past decade as countries mined their reserves without caution. Sumaila’s results showed that developing countries were following the lead of first world nations that were liquidating their ecological capital for short-term purposes.

“Our actions today may have even greater consequences later on. It is concerning that both our financial and ecological security are deteriorating,” Sumaila said.

He said the Eco2 index should give officials a heads up to plan for a better future.

The rankings

The top 5 countries:

1. Bolivia
2. Angola
3. Namibia
4. Paraguay
5. Argentina

The worst countries:

1. Singapore
2. Kuwait
3. Israel
4. Korea
5. United Arab Emirates

The G8 countries:

1. Canada (15th)
2. Russia (31st)
3. France (77)
4. United States (103)
5. Germany (119)
6. United Kingdom (129)
7. Italy (135)
8. Japan (144)


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