Developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have the greatest to gain from improvements in environmental performance. Sub-Saharan African countries score lower than any other region, occupying 30 of the bottom 44 positions. Investments in clean water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure could help these countries significantly boost their scores. Rising populations in sub-Saharan Africa continue to put substantial pressure on limited environmental resources. The UN estimates that about half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is living on less than a dollar a day, making it the world’s poorest and least developed region (United Nations, 2014). The number of people living in slums, often without access to basic services, is expected to double to approximately 400 million people by 2020, putting even more pressure on these resources (United Nations, 2014).
High performance in sub-Saharan Africa is still possible, with Seychelles and Namibia both making significant progress on certain issue categories. Seychelles scored 39th in the overall rankings and first in its regional group. Seychelles’ rise stems largely due to improvements in the Climate & Energy issue category as a result of new policy choices that place climate change at the center of its development strategy. Seychelles’ score increased by 83.21 from a 10.04 baseline, and Seychelles is now a net sink for global GHG emissions (Republic of Seychelles, 2015, p. 1). Namibia (79th) improved its Biodiversity & Habitat score significantly over the past decade, ranking 11th in the issue category. Namibia’s deep commitment to biodiversity and environmental protection are embedded in its history. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate the environment into its constitution. Following its independence in 1990, the government returned ownership of its wildlife to the people, employing a successful, community-based management system that gave its citizens the right to create conservancies (Conniff, 2011; World Wide Fund for Nature, 2011). Today, Namibia has 148 protected areas covering 37.89% of its terrestrial environmental and 1.71% of its EEZ (United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2017).
Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are dispersed throughout the middle of the 2018 global rankings, with Israel (19th), Qatar (32nd), and Morocco (54th) leading the regional rankings. Oman (116th), Libya (123rd), and Iraq (152nd) rank as the lowest performers within the region. Many MENA countries contain vast hydrocarbon reserves, which often adversely impact performance on key indicators for Air Quality and Climate and Energy. Oil refineries, hydrocarbon-generated power plants, and high fossil fuel subsidies may have impacted performance for several MENA countries. Under-pricing of energy from fossil fuel subsidies in many countries have contributed to wasteful energy use and poor performance in the Climate and Energy issue category. However, opportunities for improvements in environmental performance exist. The MENA region shows vast potential for renewable energy and many nations have begun the process to diversify their energy portfolios.