As the global push for a greener future continues, Europe remains one of the continents most committed to addressing the damaging effects of climate change. That’s not to say that the picture is consistent across Europe though. Indeed, a look at some of the least environmentally friendly countries in Europe is a sobering reminder that there is still so much more to be done, especially by some countries not yet ‘pulling their weight’, so to speak.
We’re taking a look at these countries, ranking them according to which is the least environmentally friendly. To do this, we’re using Yale University’s 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) as a guideline, as well as looking at how each country deals with green policies. Using a score out of 100, the EPI measures countries according to their commitment to hitting zero carbon, switching to renewable energy sources, and encouraging businesses and individuals alike to implement more green practices.
Sea snot accumulating off of the coast of Istanbul
5. Ukraine – EPI Score: 49.5
Although it borders on the clichéd by now, we’d be remiss to talk about Ukraine’s environmental issues without bringing up the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. To this day its fallout has an insidious impact on the Ukrainian landscape, and many scientists argue that we still don’t fully understand the damage the incident caused.
Ukraine’s low EPI position is down to more than Chernobyl however, with a number of different factors working to decrease the country’s score. Deforestation has plagued the country, with scores of ancient forests being torn up to be sold in Western Europe and beyond.
This rampant deforestation has led to greater instability along many riverbanks, which would normally be protected from the worst effects of erosion by the trees. In turn, both floods and droughts are on the rise in Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government did actually introduce a temporary ban on the export of unprocessed timber for 10 years. What complicates the issue though, is that not only did this do little to reign in illegal logging activities, it also started a toxic rift with the European Union.
The EU argued that the ban broke the free-trade terms of its €1.8 billion loan agreement with Ukraine in May 2015, and has sought to force the government to overturn the ban.
Furthermore, there is a big problem with Ukraine’s capacity and/or willingness to recycle waste. As of 2019, just 0.14% of waste in Ukraine was recycled. Compare this to Austria’s 63%, and the gulf becomes painfully clear.
One thing we should also mention is the ongoing Donbas War, which has impacted the environment through damage to industrial facilities as well as sparking forest fires via the discharging of incendiary ammunition.
4. Montenegro – EPI Score: 46.3
Because it’s only been an independent country since 2006, Montenegro’s place in this list does not stem exclusively from its own individual actions. Rather, its inclusion is thanks to a series of poor environmental policies from both before and after independence.
It’s also because of Montenegro’s lack of follow-through on a 1991 statement that it had become the first ‘ecological state’ in the world, which many climate activists say was an entirely hollow claim.
In the thirty years since this declaration, which was included in the Montenegrin Constitution, the country has done little to earn the moniker. Instead, the leading Democratic Party of Socialists has presided over a corrupt system of environmental exploitation, plundering Montenegro’s rivers, coastline, and natural resources. Sewage outlet pollution in coastal waters, notably in fishing rivers and touristy areas including medieval Kotor, is just one of the many serious issues that the government seems unwilling to address.
There is also little desire to make a switch to greener energy sources, with the vast majority of the population still using coal and wood for household heating. What Montenegro needs then, is a far greater commitment to implementing policies that reflect its self-declared status as an ecological state (now country).
Otherwise, it risks falling even further down the Environmental Performance Index.
3. Bosnia and Herzegovina – EPI Score: 45.4
Located in southeastern Europe, Bosnia and Herzegovina (commonly abbreviated to BiH or B&H) is a country known for its medieval villages, rich mix of ethnicities from centuries of migration, and challenging legacy of conflict. Its position between Serbia and Croatia has unfortunately left it vulnerable throughout the last century or so to nationalistic influence, which might in part explain its limited approach to environmental issues.
Even so, the region has glaring problems with its environmental policy and apparently little motivation to address them. Take the air quality for example; Unicef ranks Bosnia and Herzegovina’s air quality amongst the lowest in Europe. Water quality is an issue too, but it’d be harsh to place the blame solely on Bosnia and Herzegovina here – neighbouring Serbia is equally complicit, with its poor attitude towards the problem.
The poor quality of water stems from a culture of dumping waste into rivers, with far too many people just assuming the water will carry it away. Which it does – but only to form massive waste islands that dramatically increase water pollutants and further hinder the efficiency of the region’s hydroelectric dams.
Pollution rising over Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina's capital
2. Moldova – EPI Score: 44.4
Because of their heavily agricultural society, Moldovan people have long understood that a healthy ecosystem means a healthy landscape for farming. They’ve also been blessed with an abundance of chernozem soil, famed for its highly fertile qualities and rich black colour. This is why Moldova’s inclusion on this list comes with a tinge of sadness, because the environmental difficulties it faces do not entirely stem from a disregard for nature, but from mismanagement by Soviet policymakers and the difficulties of necessity.
The need for healthy farmland was overshadowed by industrialisation in the 20th century. Moldova started rapidly eliminating the natural habitats of the steppes and forests, removing nearly 90% of environments essential to the biodiversity of the region for farmland. This included grasslands, marshes, and meadows. Other economic development plans impacted the region’s aquatic areas, further deteriorating Moldova’s once vibrant environment.
The bleak reality is that Moldova’s increasingly compromised ecosystem will hurt its agricultural economy, which is essential to large swathes of the population. This will get worse as soil quality begins to degrade, an inevitable result of land clearing and over farming.
It isn’t all doom and gloom though, as in recent years Moldova’s government has kick started various soil conservation and reforestation projects. Hopefully, careful management and implementation of these and other related projects will see Moldova climb from the depths of the Environmental Performance Index.
1. Turkey – EPI Score: 42.6
Sea snot plagues, scores of dead flamingos, and a widespread practice of burning plastic – things are not looking good for Turkey. The worst part? It doesn’t even seem like Erdoğan’s government cares. Recent events involving Turkey’s own Green Party highlight that the government appears keen to actively suppress parties seeking to address climate change.
Forming a political party in Turkey should be simple enough, even amid the authoritarianism fostered by Erdoğan. It’s usually just a case of handing in your application and voilà, you’re ready to compete in elections (though good luck with actually winning anything). This hasn’t been so for the Green Party, though. They applied back in September 2020, and over a year later, they’ve still not been legally recognised. This shows that the bureaucracy is not only influenced by the ruling party of Erdoğan, but is also unwilling to legalise a party that would actively challenge Turkey’s poor environmental policies.
What’s more, is that Turkey shows an alarming disregard for the reality that climate change will affect it more than many other countries, especially those in the Global North. 60% of Turkey doesn’t receive enough rainfall, and the past five years have seen a sharp rise in droughts. The dead flamingos shocked and appalled the nation, but this has not received much if any attention from the government. It’s clear to see that Turkey has some way to go in improving its environmental policies if it hopes to see its poor EPI score rise