Britain's record on environment rated below Bangladesh

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Britain's record on the environment has been dealt a damaging blow by an international study which placed it below that of Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea.

Britain's record on the environment has been dealt a damaging blow by an international study which placed it below that of Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea.

The global index of environmental sustainability, measuring water quality, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and nuclear-reactor safety, ranked the UK in 91st place in the world, below many developing countries.

MPs and green groups seized upon the findings by the World Economic Forum claiming they showed the Government was failing to preserve Britain's resources for future generations to enjoy. This would lead to a worse quality of life in years to come they argued.

The study, drawn up with experts from around the world including Yale and Columbia universities, found the UK had a notably bad record on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting waste and consumption and draining water sources for drinking and domestic use. Dozens of factors including child death rates, threats to birds and mammals, the erosion of forests, the fertility rate, and the size of fish catches were studied along with each country's record on pollution control, natural resource management and environmental regulations.

After Britain's economic position was factored in, it came out worse than every other European country except Belgium.

The UK was judged, along with India and Belgium, to be "well positioned on economic grounds" but in a poor position to sustain environmental conditions for the future.

Overall, the country was placed in the bottom half of the 142 rankings on a par with Mexico, Cameroon and Burma, Morocco, Egypt, Malawi and Senegal.

But it performed particularly badly in specific areas, coming 140th out of 142 on "reducing environmental stresses", 115th on "environmental systems" and 110th on "global stewardship".

The best countries in the 2002 environmental sustainability index were judged to be Finland, Norway, Sweden and Canada. Austria, Iceland, Costa Rica and Switzerland were also in the top 10, while Botswana also scored very highly.

The forum was made up of G8 leaders and multinational corporations as well as Yale and Columbia universities. Britain's ranking in the index will come as a blow to Tony Blair who has stressed the need to cut global warming and improve the nation's environmental standing.

Ministers attacked the report as "profoundly flawed." Elliot Morley, the Environment minister, challenged the findings which he said used weightings which were "entirely subjective".

"The UK and other countries believe this index is profoundly flawed and therefore potentially misleading, for the following reasons," Mr Morley said. "It is an aggregated indicator which aims to weight together many components into a single overall measure of 'environmental sustainability'."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said the report revealed how little the Government was doing to protect Britain's countryside and wildlife and to tackle pollution. "It once again shows that far from being at the heart of government the environment is frankly out on a limb," he said. "It is an appalling international statistic which throws an unwelcome spotlight on the government's environmental record."

Friends of the Earth said the index had let the UK off lightly. It said Britain would come off even worse if other criteria were used. Farming groups warned of the dangers of failing to preserve the UK's environment for future generations.

Robin Maynard of Farm, the sustainable food and farming research group, said: "Sustainability is about building a long-term future for your country based on the resources and services it can provide.

"It is deeply depressing that a country where the environment and conservation movement began comes so low down the register."

Britain's record of building roads on wildlife sites will have damaged its score, Friends of the Earth said. The controversial Newbury bypass, which sparked fierce protests, destroyed three sites of special scientific interest. The score would also have been affected by the fact that the UK imports wood from Sumatra in Indonesia where tropical rainforest is disapearing fast.

And the UK will have been seriously damaged by its huge stockpiles of radioactive waste. "We have one of the largest stockpiles of plutonium: 50 tons and rising. It's a phenomenal amount," said one environmental expert.