Shameful, sobering and scary

Shameful, sobering and scary

South Africa has some of the most progressive environmental legislation in the world, but some ugly truths emerged with the release of an authoritative global report in January.


The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) was developed by Yale and Columbia Universities in the US in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.

The EPI broke new ground this year by incorporating a second element: the Pilot Trend EPI, which complements the EPI by showing not just how the 132 participating countries are doing – but whether their performance has improved or declined in the past decade.

How did we do? Let’s put it this way: the top five countries in terms of environmental performance are Switzerland, Latvia, Norway, Luxembourg, and Costa Rica. Now look at the bottom five … from worst: Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, South Africa. And we promote ourselves as a premier tourist destination?

Put 132 countries on a list, and we come in at number 128 in terms of how we look after our environment? And instead of improving, our performance is declining. We came in at 124 on the Pilot Trend EPI.

We’re almost the worst in the world, and we’re getting worse. This is humiliating and bad for our economic prospects, not to mention our health and wellbeing. This is where we live!

South Africa was found to be the biggest emitter of green house gases in Africa, and the biggest polluter on the continent. Of the 26 African countries assessed, SA ranked lowest and is declining fastest.

We need to study what Latvia is doing. Latvia is No 2 in performance and No 1 in terms of improvement. Again, we’re at 128 and 124.

Clearly urgent action is needed. The perilous state of our water resources and our continued reliance on fossil-fuel-driven energy must be addressed. For all our wonderful legislation, actual implementation is inadequate. Government needs to find new ways to address our complex environmental challenges.

The Democratic Alliance has called for a ban on mining in ecologically sensitive areas, saying that if we don’t, the damage – particularly to our fresh water supply – will be irreversible.

Some believe the next big war will be fought not over territory, but water. The DA’s call should be heeded. All such calls should be listened to and acted upon. A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Affairs said they were aware of the EPI but could not confirm or deny its credibility.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Or take a stand. Stage your own revolution. Lobby government. Fix that dripping tap. Do something. We have to – each and every one of us. Now. Today. Today really counts.

The EPI ranks countries on 22 performance indicators in 10 categories, including environmental burden of disease, water (effects on human health), water resources (ecosystem effects), air pollution, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture and climate change.

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