In May I was invited to Latvia by the non-profit Homo Ecos to participate in a campaign to raise awareness of Latvia’s environment and its goal to become one of the greenest countries in the world.  According to the 2008 Environmental Performance Index, Latvia ranked eighth amongst 149 countries across 10 environmental policy categories ranging from air and water quality to forestry and climate change.  In 2010, the country’s performance fell slightly to 21st place out of 163 countries.  One of the reasons for this drop in ranking was due to a significantly lower score in the climate change category in which Latvia only scored 55.6 out of 100.

Latvia – a small Baltic country nestled between Estonia and Lithuania with a population of a little over 2.2 million (and slowly depopulating, as I learned during my visit) and a land area just over 64,000 sq. km – is already very green.  Over half of the country is covered in forest, of which the amount that is deforested for timber production is sustainably harvested and FSC certified, not to mention counterbalanced by an increase of growing stock volume each year.  In terms of climate change, they burn no coal: about 60 percent of their electricity comes from hydroelectric sources; another 20 percent from other renewables; 10 percent from biomass; and the rest is purchased from neighboring countries like Estonia (which do burn coal for power production).

While I think my new Latvian friends were hoping for some earth-shattering insights and recommendations as to what they could do to improve their performance in the climate change category, I had to first clarify that the results from the 2008 and 2010 EPIs are not compatible for many reasons.  First, we weighted the climate change categories differently between the two years.  Second, we used different data between both years and had to rely in some cases on modeled data, particularly for land-use emissions data. These reasons largely accounted for the drop in performance for Latvia on climate change.

However, looking more closely at the sectors responsible for Latvia’s emission profile, it is clear that there are areas Latvia could address to reduce emissions.  Transport, for example, represents around 30 percent of Latvia’s emissions profile, which is well above the EU’s average 21.1 percent.  Agriculture emissions are also quite high (17.5 percent).

Source: Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (WRI).

Source: Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (WRI).

Here is the full presentation I gave at the Ministry of Environment in Riga:

And a Youtube video of the recommendations I gave for how Latvia could improve their performance on climate change:

(I realize I speak too quickly … I’m working on it, I promise!)

We will be writing more in detail about Latvia in the 2012 release of the Environmental Performance Index, but I wanted to share my experience because it was a really special and amazing opportunity to share our work with policymakers who are putting the research into practice.