United Nations - Despite its enormous wealth and phenomenal growth in technological inventions, the United States remains far behind other industrialized countries in trying to help poor nations embark on the path of development, a new study by an independent think tank concludes.
The United States ranks last of 21 rich countries on the environment component of this year's Commitment to Development Index (CDI), according to the Center for Global Development (CGD), a Washington, DC-based research and policy organization.
The Index, produced annually by the Center, ranks high-income industrialized countries on how well their polices and actions support poor countries' efforts to build prosperity, good governance, and security.
As explained by the Center's researchers, the scoring adjusts for size, leveling the playing field for large and small countries. The environment component is just one of seven policy areas that comprise the CDI. The other components include aid, trade, investment, migration, security, and technology.
The Index shows Norway on the top among the industrialized nations in the area of environment in development, followed by Ireland, Finland, and Britain. In the industrialized world, Spain has benched as "the second worst" on the environment, preceded by Australia and Canada.
When all seven categories are considered, the Netherlands comes in first on the 2007 CDI on the strength of its ample aid-giving, falling greenhouse gas emissions, and support for investment in developing countries. Close behind are three more big aid donors: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand are among those tying for fifth. The United States comes in fourteenth, and Japan places last again this year.
"Overall standings in the Index were little changed from last year, because countries' policies and practices towards development tend to change slowly," said research fellow David Roodman, who is the report's lead author.
Comparing the U.S. policy on the environment component to other rich countries, Roodman described it as a disaster, saying: "The U.S. can do much better. It has the money, technology, and entrepreneurial flare to be a global environmental leader."
The United States comes in last due partly to extremely high greenhouse gas emissions per capita (over 21 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per person) and the lowest gasoline taxes of all 21 countries in the Index. The United States also loses points for its refusal to ratify the Kyoto treaty, the most significant global effort to deal with climate change.
"There is a growing body of evidence that developing countries will suffer first and worst from climate change," said CGD president Nancy Birdsall. "Americans aren't accustomed to being the bad guys. I hope by next year the U.S. will have moved up in these rankings."
A recent study by William Cline, a senior fellow at CGD, concludes that developing countries will suffer an average 10- to 25-percent decline in agricultural productivity by the 2080s if the current emissions trend continues the way it is.
By contrast, rich countries, which typically have lower average temperatures, will experience a "much milder" or "even positive" effect of climate change, according to Cline. His colleague David Wheeler, who was involved in another recent research project on the subject, agrees. Wheeler predicts that sea level rise as a result of global warming would force 90 million people out of their homes, many of them in the river deltas of Bangladesh, Egypt, and Vietnam.
Because of the potentially far-reaching affects of climate change on poor countries, policies in this area account for the 60 percent of total score in the CDI environment component. Biodiversity accounts for 30 percent while fisheries constitute the remaining 10 percent.
The report also examines many other aspects of development commitments, such as migration. The section on migration looks at how receptive a country is to accepting migrants for work or study.
It ranks Austria first for accepting the most migrants relative to its size, with Switzerland not far behind. In the report, at the bottom is Japan, whose population of unskilled workers from developing countries actually shrank during the 1990s.
The United States, a nation founded by immigrants, scores a surprisingly mediocre 4.7. (Scores range from 1.3 to 10.4 on the migration component.) "For its size, its inflow of legal immigrants and refugees is actually low compared to many European nations," said Roodman.
The report also questions the notion that pro-migration policies in wealthy countries lead to brain drain from poorer nations. Researchers say that in Africa, for example, a multitude of factors cause doctors and nurses to leave countries, and negative health outcomes, like infant mortality, should not be blamed on migration policies abroad.
"Far more ails African clinics and hospitals than a lack of personnel," said CGD research fellow Michael Clemens. "Personnel shortages themselves result from many forces untouched by international migrations policies, such as low pay and poor working conditions."
The publication of the index is a significant marker for developed countries. "Both the Netherlands and Finland now use our index as an official measure of development performance," CGD's Roodman said.
© 2007 One World