Explained: What is the environment index, and why has India questioned it?

News: The newly released Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022, measured by Yale and Columbia universities, ranks India at the bottom position among 180 countries.

The Environment Ministry has issued a rebuttal, saying the indicators used in the assessment are based on “unfounded assumptions”.

What is the Environmental Performance Index (EPI)?

The EPI is an international ranking system of countries based on their environmental health.

Read here.

How poor is the EPI assessment of India?

With a rank of 180 and a score of 18.9, India has fallen from rank 168 and a score of 27.6 in 2020.

India comes after Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar, the poorest performers.

Denmark tops the list with a score of 77.9.

India ranks close to the bottom on a number of indicators including ecosystem vitality (178th), biodiversity (179th), biodiversity habitat index (170th), species protection index (175th), etc.

What are the objections raised by India?

In a statement, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change stated that some of the indicators used for assessing performance are extrapolated and based on surmises and unscientific methods.

Two major concerns have been cited

Baseline data does not seem to have been used, and

There has been no explanation for the weightages assigned to certain indicators.

The Ministry said the shifting of weightage on many indicators has resulted in India’s low ranking.

For example, for black carbon growth, India’s score actually improved from 32 in 2020 to 100 (the top score) in 2022, but the weightage of this indicator has been reduced to 0.0038 in 2022 from 0.018 in 2020.

What is the objection with the projection?

The government has objected to calculations of greenhouse gas projections for 2050.

The government said the projection for greenhouse gas emissions has been computed based on the average rate of change in emission of the last 10 years rather than modelling that takes into account a longer period, extent of renewable energy capacity and use, additional carbon sinks, energy efficiency etc.

It said crucial carbon sinks that mitigate GHG, such as forests and wetlands, have not been taken into account.

India’s low emissions trajectory, unlike high historical trajectories of developed countries, has been ignored, it said.

The government has objected to the low weightage given to per-capita GHG emissions.

Among other objections raised:

– the index emphasises the extent of protected areas rather than the quality of protection that they afford

– the computation of biodiversity indices does not factor in management effectiveness evaluation of protected areas

– indicators such as agro biodiversity, soil health, food loss and waste are not included even though they are important for developing countries with large agrarian populations.

Do environmental scientists agree with the report?

As per experts, the climate change parameter of the EPI report is “highly problematic”.
The EPI 2022 makes an assumption that every country has to reach net-zero by 2050 — whereas the understanding is that developing countries will need more time.

GHG emissions will continue to grow in poorer countries for a time, unlike many developed countries, which have peaked.

The EPI 2022 is neither ethically correct nor reflects the political reality.

Moreover, the low weightage given to per-capita GHG emissions automatically reduces the ranks of countries like India and China.

Even if air pollution declines steadily, in countries like India and China, by virtue of their large populations the overall figure of the health burden for instance, will always be high and therefore will always fall in the bottom of the pile, if per-capita GHG emissions are given lower weightage.

Way forward

Despite issues with the EPI, India does have severe local environmental issues, which have been highlighted in the report and need to be addressed.

Source: This post is based on the article “Explained: What is the environment index, and why has India questioned it?” published in The Indian Express on 11th June 22.

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