World Environment Day: the best and worst performing countries listed and mapped

By Ron Mader via Flickr, Creative Commons

This post was first published on 5th June but some technical issues forced me to republish it today. 

Today, 5th of June, is the World Environment Day, a recurrence established by the United Nations to encourage awareness and action for the environment.

This year’s theme of the event is “Seven billion dreams. One planet. Consume with care” and it is not a coincidence that the country hosting the 2015 event also hosts the World Exposition 2015, this year focused on a similar theme.

So, let’s take a look on how Italy and the other UN members perform in environmental matters.
The Environmental Performance Index is a measure developed by Yale University and Colombia University in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and the European Commission.

The index is a composite of two umbrella-groups of variables, Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality, under which are evaluated water quality, pollution, CO2 emissions, use of non-hazardous pesticides in agriculture, and other factors.

The map below shows the 10 year-period change of each country performance values and how they rank globally.


Surprisingly, some of the lowest ranking countries have managed anyway to improve their performances over the decade. Kuwait and least developed countries Niger, Timor-Leste, Djibouti, Sierra Leone have experienced an over 20 points improvement, while Arab country Bahrain‘s performance was 4 points lower than 10 years ago, likewise Qatar‘s (-1.3) and United Arab Emirates’s (-0.95).

Northern and Central European countries were among the highest ranking, with Switzerland (87 points) and Luxembourg (83) topping the league, followed by Australia (82) and Singapore (81).
Access to water is the field where these countries have scored the highest points, whereas for people living in the lowest ranking countries Somalia (15), Mali (18) and Haiti (19) seems more difficult to have the service at all.

For the performances of all countries see the table below.

Debate: what’s wrong with GM?

This Storify gathers the relevant tweets from the recent debate organised by Scidev.net.

Panellists reflects on the importance of an healthy debate and an accurate risk/benefit assessment.
To view the entire debate with longer statements and many scientific resources go on the comments section of the webpage.
What’s your opinion?
Do you feel safe with GMOs in the market? Do we need better labelling regulations?
Do small farmers in developing countries benefit or there are other methods out there?
Write a comment below and let’s discuss…

EU Agri-subsidies 2012: among millionaires and shadows

Curious about “Who gets What” from the European agricultural subsidies in UK?
Among the millionaires 11 names are currently unknown for privacy reasons, two are aristocrat and five recipients got half of the fund entitled to market support.

Inspired by the work of the farmsubsidy.org team, I have started working on a project on the Commom Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies.

The personal choice of  the UK case is essentially connected to the quality of the information released by the government. Indeed the database of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) includes all the amounts paid by the delegated government bodies to the companies, despite its cover-up of the physical person names, according to the European Commission Regulation No 259/2008.

In the visualization below it is possible to see the millionaire beneficiaries of last year CAP payments round.
The red ones represent the recipients whose names we don’t know.



                       
         
As it can be seen the covered beneficiaries are 11, and the most significant is ranked 4th in the chart.
At this point, while the policy that regulates the release of the names and the payments looked to follow an obvious right to privacy, now might appear damaging another important right, the citizen’s one to know where his/her taxes are spent.

In this case, are the citizens morally entitled to know who received almost 4 million pounds?
Is this privacy law in need to be limited to payments under one million pounds?
The renewal process of the CAP for the period after 2013 is in realization, but in the proposals these questions are not included.

By the way, the unknown “Scrooge McDucks” considered together account for 15 millions pounds.

While fortunately the policy doesn’t interest the majority of the millionaires’ names, globally the payments taken by the noted recipients are 20% of the total amount.

And the 80% is more then 3 billion pounds and covered behind a question mark.

         The big five and the market support 

The CAP payments are divided in two pillars: the first one includes direct payments and market support funding, while the second is for rural development payments.
While the direct ones are based on the land size, the rural development funding aims to foster those projects, companies or farms that are committed toward a development of the rural society.
The payments reserved for market support are in existence for different reasons, including situations of market destabilization and exporting refunding.

In UK the sum of these amounts to more then 30,5 million pounds. It is shared among 310 companies, but last year 5 of them cashed half of the money, leaving the rest to the others.

Harvest the Harvesters!

What does get more than 1/3 of the total European budget? Agriculture!
Despite the recent drop in the funds given to the fields, from the next year the Old continent’s farmers will get about 39% of our money, which makes it one of the two sectors most funded by the Union (the other is the sustainable growth).

The group of activists and journalists behind the cross-country data journalism project farmsubsidy.org, led by Brigitte Alfter and …..

Jack Thurston, will hold a session at the next Friday Data Harvest event.
There they will release new data about subsidies given by the EU to landowners and we (I’m going!) will be able to work on them.

The question is: What is it supposed we can use them for?
Answer: to check how much the farming companies .really get
In fact in the farmsubsidy.org website, it is possible to see the names of the recipients and how much they get. So if you want to see the funds given to Nestlè you can do it. But it would be a useless data if we don’t compare it with others, such the other less famous farms listed there.

Or, better, we might stumble on something really interesting in the case we combine those ones to other data, like a list of farms by size or type of agriculture system.
For this reason I have done a list of theme that I will ask to help me to sort out to the programmers at the workshop:

  • the amount given to the European big farms and a comparison between these and what the small ones get
                               Despite we know that the subsidies are based on a certain amount per hectare, I would  
                               like to know who the major European landowners are and how much they get in order 
                               to lay a question: Is it all this fair for the independent landowners?
  • the numbers of the financial help given to the farms of each Country, to see how much the ones that have joined the European Union before the 2004 get compared to the ones that have joined later
                              The two groups get theoretically different amounts, as for the before-2004 one the 
                              system takes into consideration, in addition to the farms’ hectares, the historical criteria 
                              and the aid model of the country. 
  • several comparison between what different farms typologies get:
                             – growers vs livestock farms (the latter are likely to be less sustainable);
                             – organic vs traditional (the Eu commission has stressed its intention to be more organic);
                             – etc..

  •  Is the landgrapping companies funded by the EU? 
                             find in the list of recipients available at the data harvest the ones that own lands abroad.
The only negative part is represented by the fact that the farmsubsidies website and community have been able to collect just a small part of the information related to the money every farms get. In fact due to new privacy rules the names of the beneficiaries are less than 8%, making the website properly useful for that countries, like Sweden and UK, that have an high transparency index.  
The Austrian journalist Hans Weiss took farm subsidy reporting to a new level. He analysed the political power in farmers’ unions, connections to political parties, he found farmers under pressure from the dairy companies and neighbours, and he unveiled the enormous power of agricultural Raiffeisen Bank. 
Compared to his work my questions look like from a 15 year-old student. 
And you? What are you interested on? Any suggestion? 
Please feel free to add any issue that you would like to focus on once the data will be released.