Only four countries are on track to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050: Botswana, Denmark, Namibia and the UK

March 10, 2023

Sebastian Block Munguía, Yale University; and Lorena Rivera León, WIPO

Originally published by the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Ecological sustainability is essential for innovation; and innovation is essential for ecological sustainability.

Ecological sustainability ensures that science, research and innovation are focused on addressing environmental challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and resource depletion.

Given these central interactions, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) of Yale University and Columbia University is one of the indicators included in the Infrastructure pillar of the Global Innovation Index (GII), and its findings offer valuable insights into global sustainability.

Here are the main findings of the last EPI report:


Europe is still leading the EPI rankings. However, some developing economies are also making progress towards achieving sustainability goals

Denmark received the highest overall score in the 2022 EPI with a score of 77.9 on a scale of 0 to 100. While high-income economies typically lead the EPI rankings[1], income is not the only factor. Some developing economies such as North Macedonia and Botswana are outperforming many high-income economies. Other economies, such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, score well and outperform many richer economies.

Top three Environmental Performance by income group*


*World Bank Income Group Classification (July 2022); the ranking only includes countries covered in the Global Innovation Index 2022

The EPI 2022 report has revealed mixed results when it comes to ecological sustainability worldwide. While progress has been made in some areas, several indicators have shown stagnation.

  • One example is the indicators measuring the health effects of PM2.5 exposure, waste management sustainability, and fisheries sustainability, all of which have increased by less than 5% over the last decade.
  • The EPI report also found that the indicator measuring countries’ progress towards reaching zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 received the lowest global score, with only 1.4 out of 100. Extrapolating the recent trend in greenhouse gas emissions, it was projected that only four countries (Botswana, Denmark, Namibia, and the United Kingdom) would achieve zero emissions by 2050. In all other 176 countries assessed, emissions are still increasing or not decreasing quickly enough.

Mixed global progress across the EPI’s indicators


But the EPI data used in the GII also reveals some noteworthy success stories. The global scores of the indicators tracking emissions of SO2, NOx, and black carbon increased by 52%, 46%, and 106%, respectively, due in part to the phasing out of coal power plants. But the greatest progress was in the indicator measuring the coverage of marine protecteEPId areas (122% score increase), which is the focus of the remainder of this article. 

Big strides in marine biodiversity protection: Chile, Seychelles, South Africa and Gabon made the largest improvements towards meeting international targets

As shown above, the greatest global progress over the last decade was made in the field of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Protected areas are locations managed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature and biodiversity.

The MPA indicator measures the countries’ progress towards the (now datedinternational target of protecting 10% of coastal and marine ecosystems by 2020. Specifically, the indicator measured the percentage of a country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) covered by MPAs. While in 2012 the global score in this indicator was 45.1 (out of 100), it was 100 in 2022. That is, this conservation target was met. Chile was the country with the greatest 10-year improvement in this indicator, closely followed by the Seychelles, South Africa, and Gabon (Figure 1). The United Kingdom, Panama, Brazil, and Mexico also made great progress and reached a score of 100.

Figure 1


Now, the goal is to protect 30% of all marine areas by 2030. Some countries will have to keep up this progress to meet the new targets established in the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, signed in December 2022. Currently only 14 countries meet the goal.


The Global Innovation Index (GII) uses the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) as an innovation input indicator in the Infrastructure Pillar (indicator 3.3.2), thanks to a long-standing collaboration with the EPI team at Yale University and Columbia University. The Environmental Performance Index is a joint project of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.

Published biennially, the EPI is a data-driven analysis of the state of sustainability around the world. The 2022 EPI scored 180 countries on 40 performance indicators grouped into 11 environmental issue categories and three policy objectives: environmental health, ecosystem vitality, and climate change.

  • Environmental health indicators measure the quality of the environment for human health (including waste management, air quality, exposure to heavy metals and unsafe sanitation).
  • Ecosystem vitality refers to the integrity of natural ecosystems and the services they provide to humanity (including indicators of fisheries’ sustainability, deforestation, and biodiversity protection).
  • Climate change indicators measure the growth rate in emissions of different greenhouse gasses, as well as emissions resulting from land use change.

The EPI indicators are outcome-oriented, meaning that they do not measure policy inputs but rather the actual results of policy implementation. As such, the EPI can help countries assess the effectiveness of their environmental policies, as well as identify and adopt successful policies from peers.

Detailed results are available on the EPI’s website.


1But consider two important caveats when interpreting these results. First, to be policy-relevant, the EPI focuses on recent environmental trends, which benefits developed countries in which most environmental degradation happened decades or centuries ago. Second, the EPI does not account for the spillover of environmental impacts through international trade. That is, impacts are assigned to the country where traded goods are produced, not to where they are consumed.

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