2022 Environmental Performance Index Is Released With New Climate and Air Quality Metrics

June 16, 2022

Madeleine Zaritsky

The Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) recently released their 2022 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), ranking 180 countries across a variety of indicators that represent a cross-section of environmental priorities. This biennial report is intended to facilitate data-driven policymaking by providing an in-depth snapshot of a country’s sustainability and allowing for its progress in the field to be charted. With “the EPI… we take environmental datasets from… countries around the world and transform those data that oftentimes measure really complex environmental issues into simple metrics that anyone can understand,” described principal investigator Dr. Martin Wolf. The report aims to provide a clear channel between those who study climatic and environmental systems and those who affect said systems, through governance, reporting, and information sharing.

Much is new in the 2022 edition. In addition to the two policy objectives that have been factored into past reports– environmental health and ecosystem vitality– this paper identifies climate change as a third objective, recognizing its importance in people’s lives and nations’ policy agendas. Added EPI climate insights and factors accompany this shift, seeking to highlight countries who have made progress in reducing emissions and are projected to reach future climate targets. There is also the development and inclusion of new air quality metrics, driven by Dr. Wolf’s background in climate science and atmospheric chemistry. In place of averaging air quality across a country, this EPI looks specifically at air quality in population centers, providing an innovative and more accurate look at what the majority of people breathe. As explained by Dr. Wolf, each postdoctoral researcher who leads the EPI effort “bring[s] their own research interests and expertise to enhance” the report alongside the many research assistants who collect and interpret the data.

In terms of analyzing and understanding the findings of the paper, the EPI should be read with several caveats in mind. Included in the report are country rankings that list 180 countries from ‘best’ to ‘worst’ environmental performance– however, as stressed by Dr. Wolf, it is unfair to compare all nations to each other. This is due to the continuing and systemic harms of colonialism, imperialism, and slavery, countries’ varied forms of government, differences in natural and economic resources, and more. Instead, one should compare and contrast the performances of nations with similar “financial resources… [and] governance structures” in order to draw policy recommendations from the report.

Additionally, the EPI does not attempt to determine responsibility for the climate crisis or analyze historical greenhouse gas emissions. Its newest climate change policy objective rather focuses on current and projected trends in emissions in an effort to “give policymakers insights into how their countries are doing in the present day,” said Dr. Wolf, and should therefore be contextualized among analyses of historical blame. This caveat extends to other issues of environmental and climate injustice that could lower a country’s ranking without the consideration of present global and systemic inequities by the report.

Lastly, as a data-based document, the EPI notes that there are critical gaps in environmental data collection that affect its conclusions, and asks for greater coordination to ensure accurate and comprehensive data-collecting efforts to better inform policy decisions.

To read about the findings of the 2022 Environmental Performance Index, access the full document here, the press release here, and coverage by the New York Times and the Washington Post here.

Information was gathered from: EPI Website; 2022 EPI Press Release; a discussion with Dr. Martin Wolf