Environmental Performance Index
Twenty years after the landmark Rio Earth Summit, governments still struggle to demonstrate improved environmental performance through quantitative metrics across a range of pollution control and natural resource management challenges. With budgetary constraints an issue around the world, governments face increasing pressure to show tangible results from their environmental investments.
The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and the Center for Earth Information Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University first responded to this need for sustainability metrics in 2000 with the Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI). The ESI, the predecessor to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), was launched as a complement to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and a counterpoint to gross domestic product (GDP), which for too long had been the sole measure of wellbeing. The objective of the ESI was to provide science-based quantitative metrics as an aid to achieving long-term sustainable development goals. Although the Millennium Declaration included environmental sustainability as a goal, it contained virtually no relevant quantitative metrics to support this goal – in sharp contrast to the other goals such as poverty reduction, health care and education. The ESI, published the same year, helped address the lack of relevant quantitative metrics to support the MDGs and helped governments around the world incorporate sustainability into mainstream policy goals.
The ESI was a first attempt to rank countries on 76 different elements of environmental sustainability, including natural resource endowments, past and present pollution levels, environmental management efforts, contributions to the protection of the global commons, and a society’s capacity to improve environmental performance over time. This broad scope ultimately limited the ESI’s utility as a concrete and pragmatic policymakers’ guide.
To address this challenge, the Yale-Columbia research team shifted in 2006 to an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) that focuses on a narrower set of environmental issues for which governments can be held accountable. The EPI tracks outcome-oriented indicators based on best available data in core policy categories. In addition, the EPI seeks to promote action through transparent and easily visualized metrics that allow political leaders to see the strengths and weaknesses of their nation’s performance compared to peer countries. The analysis centers on two overarching environmental objectives: 1) reducing environmental stresses on human health and 2) promoting ecosystem vitality and sound natural resource management.
The 2012 EPI reflects a methodological refinement intended to make the EPI more useful for policymakers by focusing on a slightly smaller set of core indicators that meet higher standards, including direct measurement (rather than modeled data), consistent time series, and institutional commitments to maintain these data streams into the foreseeable future. The application of these more stringent criteria enabled us to track performance over time and should enable us to continue tracking performance using a more consistent set of indicators into the future.
These changes allowed us to develop – and now introduce – the Pilot Trend Environmental Performance Index (Trend EPI), which ranks countries on the change in their environmental performance over the last decade. As a complement to the EPI, the Trend EPI shows which countries are improving and which countries are declining over time. By using the Trend EPI, countries will now be able to assess their environmental progress through time as well as the efficacy of policies implemented to address issues surrounding their performance.
The full 2012 EPI & Trend EPI report is available at http://www.epi.yale.edu.