Q&A with EPI Investigator, Zach Wendling

February 20, 2018

Lucy Kessler, YCELP RA

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI), was released January 22nd in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. YCELP Research Assistant, Lucy Kessler, sat down with the Zach Wendling, the EPI Principal Investigator, to discuss the 20th anniversary of the Index and his key takeaways from the report.

Lucy: Why was the Environmental Performance Index featured at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos?


Zach: The idea for the EPI emerged from a discussion back in 1998 with the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Leaders for Tomorrow, so this year marks the 20th anniversary of this project. The WEF’s annual meeting in Davos served as a landmark venue for the biennial release of the report. In honor of the WEF’s long-standing commitment to sustainability, global policymaking, and the vision that launched the EPI, we celebrated the 20 years of this collaboration during Yale’s reception in Davos on January 23.


Lucy: The EPI is a wealth of information, ranking 180 countries on 24 environmental metrics. What is your key takeaways from the 2018 EPI?


Zach: The 2018 EPI results confirm that sustainable development requires not only economic prosperity to invest in infrastructure, but careful management of the pollution threats associated with industrialization and urbanization. Nowhere is this tension clearer than in the issue category of air quality, which has emerged as the leading environmental health threat globally.


Lucy: Why is the EPI important?


Zach: The EPI brings to the fore cutting-edge science and data analysis in ways that are meaningful to a broad audience. There are numerous examples of the EPI influencing government policy, and I look forward to seeing how this year’s report might shape the environmental policy agenda and focus discussions on various global priorities.


Lucy: The EPI rankings demonstrate a clear distinction between the environmental performance of developed and developing countries. Which countries defy this trend and what can under-performing countries do to improve?


Zach: Seychelles ranks as the most-improved country over the past decade, rising from a baseline score of 47 to a score of 66, equivalent to an increase of 86 places in the ranks. This improvement is largely due to its commitment to combating greenhouse gas emissions. São Tomé and Príncipe, Kuwait, and Timor-Leste also increased their scores due to several factors, including the establishment of areas protecting biodiversity and habitat. Madagascar, the Bahamas, and Latvia slipped significantly in environmental performance, largely due to sub-par performance on climate change. Countries at the top of the EPI rankings tend to not change very much over time. High scorers have little room for improvement, and the durability of good governance and investments in infrastructure make deterioration rare.


Lucy: Are there any findings in this year’s EPI that are unique from the 2016 report?


Zach: For every version of the EPI, we update the analysis to incorporate the latest advances in environmental science and data. The 2018 EPI includes new metrics on environmental health, tracks a broader suite of greenhouse gasses, and introduces new measures of biodiversity protection, among other changes.