The Controversy Regarding Environment Performance Index – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

The newly released Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022 is in news due to India’s dismal rank. The Index has ranked India at the bottom position among 180 countries. The poor rank is indicative of a serious degree of environmental degradation along with a vacuum of credible steps to preserve the environment and ecology. However, some environmental experts have noted some flaws in the methodology of the Index. Even the Ministry of Environment has issued a rebuttal saying the indicators used in the assessment are based on ‘unfounded assumptions’ and India’s rank should have been much higher. 

What is the Environmental Performance Index?

The EPI is an international ranking system of countries based on their environmental health. It is a biennial index, first started in 2002 as the Environment Sustainability Index by the World Economic Forum

It is prepared by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy in collaboration with the Columbia University Center for International Earth Science Information Network.

EPI 2022 uses 40 performance indicators to assess and rank 180 countries. The indicators “measure how close countries are in meeting internationally established sustainability targets for specific environmental issues”.

The 40 indicators are under the broad categories of climate change performance, environmental health, and ecosystem vitality. The 2022 EPI has included new parameters to its earlier assessments, with projections of progress towards net-zero emissions in 2050, as well as new air quality indicators, and sustainable pesticide use.

Environmental Protection Index 2022 UPSC

Source: The Hindu

What are the Key Findings of Environmental Performance Index, 2022?

India has been ranked 180 with a score of 18.9. India’s rank was 168 (score 27.6) in 2020. India has been ranked lower than Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar, the poorest performers. In fact, India has been ranked the lowest. 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). 

Apart from this, there is a dismal performance with respect to wetland loss, air quality (179th), PM 2.5 (174th), heavy metals such as lead in water (174th), waste management (151st) etc.

It suggests that China, India, the U.S., and Russia will account for over 50 percent of residual global greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. Greenhouse gasses (GHG) include carbon dioxide, methane, fluorinated gasses, and nitrous oxide. 

India's Score in Environmental Performance Index 2022 UPSC

Source: Indian Express

What reasons have been attributed to India’s poor rank?

The Environmental Performance Index report noted that most countries that scored low have prioritized economic growth over sustainability.

Air pollution: India is home to 21 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world and has an air quality rated one of the poorest in the world. Over 16 lakh people in India die from air pollution every year, according to the report. It also identifies household fuel combustion as the largest contributor to the country’s particulate matter emissions.

Seven indicators  are used to determine the air quality in the listed countries. These include PM 2.5 exposure, household solid fuels, ozone exposure, nitrogen oxides exposure, sulphur dioxide exposure, carbon monoxide exposure, and volatile organic compound exposure.

Plastic waste generation: India and Indonesia have been identified as the top two generators of marine plastic waste in the world, while China has managed to decrease its ocean plastic pollution. Ocean plastic pollution is measured as an absolute quantity of the amount of plastic released by a country into the ocean annually. Indonesia, India, the U.S, Brazil and Thailand are the top five producers of ocean plastic pollution and are responsible for 43% of the global total.

Protection of biomes: In an analysis of countries protecting the world’s biomes, India emerged at the bottom in five out of 14 sub-categories – the most for a single nation.

What objections have been raised by India regarding the Environmental Performance Index, 2022?

As per the Environment Ministry, some of the indicators used for assessing performance are extrapolated and based on unscientific methods.

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. However, the weightage of this indicator has been reduced to 0.0038 in 2022 from 0.018 in 2020. Climate Change has been given very high weightage (38% or 0.38) and tends to neglect the development needs of poorer countries.

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

Projection for GHG emissions has been computed based on the average rate of change in emission of the last 10 years. It is not based on modeling that takes into account a longer period, extent of renewable energy capacity and use, additional carbon sinks etc. 

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

Further, India’s low emissions trajectory, unlike high historical trajectories of developed countries, has been ignored. The US and the EU should have the highest burden considering their historic emissions.

The EPI assumes every country is in the same position economically, developmentally and environmentally, therefore all had to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. 

Other Objections: The index emphasizes 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.

Dr Navroz Dubash, one of the authors of the latest report of the International Report on Climate Change (IPCC), has criticized the Index, “The EPI 2022 is neither ethically correct nor reflects the political reality.”

What can be done going ahead?

First, the parameters of the report should be modified in order to enhance its credibility. The accurate method would be to calculate GHG emissions per capita. Further, a model should be created with coefficients taking into account the effect of policies to reduce emissions. This will help in better projection of the values for future years.

Such policies include increased use of renewable energy and electric vehicles or the creation of a carbon sink. 

Second, India must make sure that its current environment policies and commitments are duly honored. For instance, India has announced a ban on single-use plastic, scheduled to be in effect from July 1. This should be properly implemented. 

Third, India must strengthen environmental litigation framework by establishing more benches of National Green Tribunals across the country. This will promote environmental consciousness and encourage people to file complaints against the violators.

Fourth, masses should be sensitized towards climate change by taking support of NGOs like GreenPeace India. This would also help in creation of Climate Change based Political Parties.

Fifth, Developed countries must accept historical responsibility and provide financial resources to the developing countries based on equity and justice principle. This is imperative for preserving the environment across the globe rather than myopically seeing one’s own domestic jurisdiction.

Conclusion

Despite the inconsistencies in the Environmental Performance Index, the Government should not ignore the fact that India was at 168th rank in 2020 and has never been in the top 150 countries since the index was started. This shows that there are severe environmental issues in India (especially air pollution) that need to be addressed urgently for attaining sustainable development.

Source: Indian Express, Indian Express, Indian Express, The Hindu

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