A brief review of 2022's Environmental Performance Index, highlighting major issues, along with a snapshot of Africa's performance.
The health of any environment is often dependent on the practices of its inhabitants, humans included. It is the activity of humans that produces the emissions which harm ecosystems. These emissions include chemical releases, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, mismanaged waste, and effluent flows into waterways. Environmental sustainability entails maintaining the balance of the natural environment and preserving its ecological health.
The Environmental Policy Index
Yale University’s Centre for Environmental Law & Policy, along with the Centre for International Earth Science Information Network from Columbia University have created the Environmental Performance Index, a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world. The index takes 3 major “policy objectives” - climate change, ecosystem vitality, and environmental health – and segments them into 40 performance indicators across 11 issue categories.
The index takes available data from trusted sources such as academic researchers, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations, and transforms the data into scores ranging from 0-100 across the 40 indicators. Weighting the aggregate scores is what creates the composite index. A review of the global scorecard reveals some interesting insights.
Global performance on some of the performance indicators such as SO2 and NOx Emissions Growth Rate, as well as Marine Protected Areas and Black Carbon Growth Rate, are stellar, while Ocean Plastic Pollution, CO and NOx Exposure, and Projected 2050 Greenhouse Gas Emissions are dismal. There has been regression from the 2012 baseline score in the Ecosystem Vitality indicators, Tree Cover Loss and Grassland Loss, suggesting growing issues with deforestation and desertification.
Waste Management is performing poorly across the globe. While wealthier countries do a better job of controlling and managing waste disposal, regions with a lot of developing nations such as Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa show low scores. In these regions, most waste is unhealthily disposed of and there tends to be less impetus for management. Globally, there has been very little progress made in rates of recycling, and a lot of plastic waste still ends up in the oceans.
Air Quality remains the most worrying issue category, contributing to Environmental Health being the worst-performing policy objective. Per the Health Effects Institute, poor air quality can be linked to over 6 million deaths annually. The performance of PM2.5 Exposure, an indicator referring to the existence of particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less in diameter in the air, has barely changed in 10 years. Urbanization and industrialization continue to drive air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are not projected to drop by 2050.
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 6 is Clean Water and Sanitation, yet this is one of the most worrying issue categories. Nearly percent of the world’s population presently drinks unsafe water, and nearly 3.6 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services such as proper sewage systems. Rates of wastewater treatment globally are low, indicating an absence of municipal water infrastructure globally, especially in developing nations. These countries may lack either the technical or financial capacity to build and develop large-scale water and sanitation infrastructure.
There is a strong correlation between country wealth, or GDP per capita, and EPI overall scores. Richer countries tend to perform better—nearly all the leading scores are from high-income countries such as Denmark, Finland, and Luxembourg. This phenomenon is pronounced in the Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality policy objectives.
A lot of this is down to infrastructure — such as municipal waste facilities and water treatment plants — which are investments that cities in developing countries may not be able to make. This trend is almost reversed in the Climate Change policy objective—rich countries are typically high emitters and development with urbanization tends to come at the expense of the environment.
A Snapshot of Africa’s Performance
Seychelles emerged as the leading African country with an index score of 55.6. The East African island country, along with Botswana (54.0), São Tomé and Príncipe (52.9), Namibia (50.9), and Gabon (49.7) are the other leading African nations. Overall, the Sub-Saharan Africa median index score of 34.9 is on par with those of the Asia-Pacific (35.1) and Greater Middle East (35) regions, and higher than that of Southern Asia (31.5).