Environment Performance Index 2020: Where does India stand?

If you live in an Indian city, you might have seen a variety of environmental problems: frothing and foaming water in the Yamuna; floods during the monsoon in Mumbai and Chennai; a lake in Bengaluru catching fire.

You’ve probably invested in an air purifier for your home/office in the last 3 years and drinking straight from the tap is unthinkable to you.

The situation in smaller cities, towns and villages are not that much better. Each town/village faces at least 2 of the following environmental problems: Overcrowding, poor hygiene, unreliable utilities, degraded natural spaces, plastic pollution.

As we look to become an economic superpower, we are facing the consequences of poor environment management. And it’s being reflected in “environmental marks-sheets”.

Environment Performance Index 2020

Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy released it’s 2020 Environment Performance Index (EPI) report in June. This biennial report evaluates the 180 countries and also suggests future thrust areas in environmental policy. You can consider this like a proxy marks-sheet for a global environment management exam.

The environmental status is evaluated under two policy objectives: environmental health and ecosystem viability.

In 2018, the Index ranked countries under these two policy objectives by considering 10 parameters (called issue categories), which were further divided into 24 performance indicators. This year, the Index has expanded its scope under both categories. There are 11 issue categories in the 2020 EPI, covering 32 performance indicators.

EPI 2020 Framework
EPI 2020 Framework (source: EPI 2020). For a full description, click here.

Scores are awarded between 1-100 for each performance indicator, which is then used to arrive at composite scores for the issue category, policy objective and finally, a score for the country. The higher you score, the higher you rank. (For full details of the methodology and data sources, click here.)

Where does India stand?

This year, India ranked 168 out of 180 countries. The rank is an improvement from 2018, when India stood at the 177th position. However, this improvement in rank should be taken with a helping of salt: despite ranking higher, India’s composite score fell from 30.57 in 2018 to 27.6 in 2020.

The report also described how India’s scores have changed over the last 10 years, which reveals an interesting story.

10-year change for EPI issue categories
Two issue categories, waste management and water resources, did not have a 10-year change score.

Environmental Health

Environmental Health continues to be India’s biggest environmental problem. With a composite score of 16.3 out of 100, India ranks 172 out of 180 under this policy objective alone. India was at the bottom of this category in 2018.

The country has scored below 20 points in 5 of the 7 performance indicators under this policy objective: Household solid fuels, PM2.5 exposure, ozone exposure, unsafe drinking water and solid waste management. The scores are below regional average (Southern Asia) and well below the global average.

However, the 10-year change indicates that there has been improvement in environmental health in the last decade. Most notably, water and sanitation has registered a +8.9 improvement, the success of which could be attributed to initiatives like the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Ecosystem Viability

India’s showing under this policy objective is poor. In the 2020 EPI, India ranks in at 150 with a score of 35.2 out of 100; the score has dropped by 2.5 points in the last 10 years. The drop may not seem like much, but when you consider that the scope of the metric has greatly increased in 10 years, any drop means significant deterioration in individual indicators.

The low score in ecosystem viability also has a large impact on the composite score. This policy objective is given 60% weight, while environmental health is given 40% weight.

Like in 2018, emissions are the biggest culprit for deterioration in ecosystem viability.

Recent controversial policy decisions and development projects, like the Draft EIA Notification 2020, highway project through the Jim Corbett National Park and the Dibang Hydroelectric Project will not help to improve matters.

How did India compare with other countries?

The report compares India’s performance with other countries in Southern Asia, as well as countries with similar socio-political situation. Despite a small economy and severe natural resource constraints, all Southern Asian countries except Afghanistan have ranked higher than India.

EPI 2020 Southern Asia
EPI 2020 scores of Southern Asian countries

Against G20 nations, which are all large economies, India ranks at the bottom of the list. China, which comes second to last, has scored 10 points higher than India.

EPI 2020 scores G20
EPI 2020 scores of G20 countries

Why should you care?

These scores are a reflection of the world you live in. Metrics like these remind us about the country’s environmental status, which is usually ignored by governments who want just one metric to stand out: GDP.

Poor performance in environmental indicators is justified with the claim that higher economic growth will allow us to invest in a better future, including to clean up the environment. But remember the proverb you heard in your school’s morning assembly? Prevention is better than cure.

There’s no reason why we should follow the same development path of the West. We can use the latest scientific advancements and our vast, ecologically sound traditional knowledge to reach where Western economies have reached faster—and safer. In fact, countries with GDPs comparable to India—UK, Germany, France and Japan—have scored well on this Index because they are redefining their growth models.

I don’t want you to care about the rank…

Every year, a ranking comes out that puts India in different positions. But we should be concerned when almost all these rankings place India near the bottom.

The EPI 2020 report is a reminder for us to keep an eye on policies and business moves around us. Tweet your representatives. Send emails. Discuss with your friends and family.

We cannot afford to let our natural resources—which we are lucky to have plenty of—and the environment at large deteriorate to a point where we spend all of our economic gains on purifiers, medical bills, and dousing fires on water bodies.

Author: Saurab Babu

Usually found sitting with a good book, nibbling on a piece of dark chocolate. Always ready for a good story.

16 thoughts

  1. It’s high time India needs to take stringent measures to improve national sustainablity efforts on all fronts. We need new directions for growth and a green future.


    1. Agreed, Akanksha. There are definitely alternate growth models that are environmentally intelligent and the government should consider them.
      What do you think is the biggest environmental priority right now?


      1. There are many burning environmental issues in india. In my opinion areas where priority action is needed are air and water pollution followed by waste management and disposal and population stabilization

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Makes sense. Air and water pollution are easier to tackle, as most of the procedural and tech aspects already exist. They are easier to modify and replicate.


  2. Our first most priority should be providing clean drinking water and then hygiene. India is still a developing country so to curb pollution is always a big task.


    1. Wouldn’t water pollution management come under the umbrella of clean drinking water?

      A lot of people depend on groundwater and river water for drinking, which gets polluted through various activities.


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