India and China rank 123rd and 121st in pollution control respectively, reflecting the strain rapid economic growth imposes on the environment, according to the 2010 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).
However, among the other newly industrialised nations Brazil and Russia rank 62nd and 69th, suggesting that the level of development is just one of many factors affecting pollution control.
Iceland leads the world in addressing pollution control and natural resource management challenges, according to the index produced by a team of environmental experts at Yale University and Columbia University.
Presented on Thursday at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2010, the EPI ranks 163 countries on their performance across 25 metrics aggregated into ten categories including environmental health, air quality, water resource management, biodiversity and habitat, forestry, fisheries, agriculture, and climate change.
Iceland's top-notch performance derives from its high scores on environmental public health, controlling greenhouse gas emissions, and reforestation, according to a media release from Yale University.
Other high performers include Switzerland, Costa Rica, Sweden, and Norway - all of which have made substantial investments in environmental infrastructure, pollution control, and policies designed to move toward long-term sustainability.
Occupying the bottom five positions are Togo, Angola, Mauritania, the Central African Republic, and Sierra Leone - countries that lack basic environmental amenities and policy capacity.
The US ranks 61st in the 2010 EPI, with strong results on some issues, such as provision of safe drinking water and forest sustainability, and weak performance on other issues including greenhouse gas emissions and several aspects of local air pollution.
This ranking puts the US significantly behind other industrialised nations like Britain (14th), Germany (17th), and Japan (20th). Over 20 members of the European Union outrank the US.
The US ranking does not reflect the recent policy activities of the Obama administration, as the 2010 EPI builds on data from before 2009.
"At the Copenhagen climate conference last month, reliable environmental performance data emerged as fundamental to global-scale policy cooperation," said Daniel C Esty, director of the Yale Centre for Environmental Law and Policy.
"The 2010 EPI shows the potential for a much more analytically rigorous approach to environmental decision making, but substantial investments in indicators that are systematically tracked and transparently displayed will be needed."