The 2018 Environmental Protection Index is one of the most recent, data-driven matrices to rank countries according to their environmental performance. This data-driven, empirical approach allows us to better understand the progress a country is making and the areas of the environment and health that the governments need to focus on in their respective countries. The biennial report is an insight into a country’s policy making and future areas of thrust in environmental policy.
The ranking is done for 180 countries on 24 performance indicators; broadly divided into two categories called environmental health and ecosystem viability.
The scores show a positive correlation with the rank, ie. the higher you score, the higher you are ranked. Where does India stand? With a score of 30.57 (out of a possible 100), India is ranked 177 out of 180.
The various parameters are divided into two major policy objectives; (1) Environmental Health, that looks into the threats that human health faces and (2) Ecosystem Viability, a measure of ecosystem services and natural resource availability.
Under these two categories, we have 24 EPI indicators, which are grouped into 10 issue categories-
- Air Quality,
- Water & Sanitation,
- Heavy Metals,
- Biodiversity & Habitat,
- Climate & Energy,
- Air Pollution,
- Water Resources, and
Air Quality, Water & Sanitation, and Heavy metals come under Environmental Health, while the rest come under Ecosystem Viability. The ranking of countries is done based on the different weights given to each of the 24 indicators. The scores under each indicator is based on extensive surveys, data collection, validation and compilation.
For more on the how the data is collected and coalesced, click here.
Since this Index has been calculated for the last 20 years, a baseline score for each country is also available to see how countries have historically performed on this test as compared to the performance between 2016 and 2018. The results for India, are not encouraging.
India: A terrible performance, to say the least…
Out of 180 countries, India ranks 177, with Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangaldesh and Burundi ranking below India. For a look at the summary of India’s scores, click here.
In terms of Environmental Health alone, India is right at the bottom of this ranking. It comes as no surprise, since India has been facing massive air pollution problems for the last 10 years, and the situation only continues to get worse. India is responding slowly to these problems, with the focus mainly on the national capital. Measures such as the Graded Response Action Plan are being implemented by the government to ensure that people, at the moment, are forewarned and remain safe.
Other industrial alterations like making zig-zag technology mandatory in brick kilns are also showing that policy makers are aware of the dangers and are looking to implement changes. However, it is unfortunate that the larger public still remains uninformed. Mindless industrialization and the race to become “developed” continues to increase Lead exposure in the environment, PM 2.5 and PM 10 levels are extremely high in every major city of the country (see Airpocalyse report from Greenpeace for more) and water and sanitation remains poor.
However, the score has improved. From a baseline score of 5.36, the 2018 Index gives India a score of 9.32 Environmental Health.
India ranks 140 out of 180 under this category, largely due to the massive amount of natural resources we have, and due to the significant amount of protection most of these resources receive today.
However, our score has dropped from a baseline score of 47.41 to a score of 44.74 in 2018. That’s a drop from 108 to 140 in global rankings in the last two years alone. Air pollution, again, seems to be the major culprit here with emissions of NOx, SOx and greenhouse gases continuing to increase.
There is some good news on the biodiversity and habitat front, with improvements in Biome protection and species protection scores for the country. While this needs to be acknowledged and appreciated, the situation is truly grim.
What is the cause of this drop?
The incessant exploitation of natural resources for economic development continues to plague the performance of this country in terms of environmental sustainability. In fact, India and China have both ranked fairly low (China being 120) due to the rapid industrialization and the subsequent air pollution this is causing. However, China has outperformed India in almost every single parameter, most notably in Ecosystem Viability (click here).
Is the government taking this seriously?
In 2018, the country had ranked 141 out of 180. In two years, we have shown a disgraceful drop in performance on all environmental parameters.
A Times of India report finds that India has been woefully short of meeting targets it set in terms of air pollution, water & sanitation as well as energy. In fact, the government has only met 9% of its target of installing 200 Gigawatts of solar power panels in the country by 2022 and seems to be losing interest. This is going to exacerbate our energy situation, leading to more coal usage and the subsequent air pollution it is going to cause.
Exposure to air pollution remains one of the biggest causes of premature death globally (World Bank & Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2016, p. 22). In India, that amounts to 3000 deaths per day according to the Global Burden of Disease. This situation, I believe, is the most important issue that the government needs to address out of all the parameters of the EPI 2018.
The government continues to allocate forest land for non-forest activities. India set itself a target of ensuring that 33% of its land will be covered by forests. Currently, we stand at 24.39%, but this figure also includes plantations. The government continues to lose natural forests, as it gave out, on average, six development projects a day in forest areas in 2017. This loss in tree cover is reflected in the report scores as well.
India’s GDP affected
A poor performance in environmental protection and environmental policy continues to affect India’s GDP. In fact, the rankings suggest that countries with higher scores on the EPI boast of higher GDPs, with countries like Switzerland and Austria and Japan topping the charts of this correlation.
India’s Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change are yet to respond to this report, and one only wonders if this is being taken seriously. Fast action is imperative. Forget the rankings, we need to do this for the people of this country.
Data has been sourced from Environmental Performance Index’s official website.