2018 EPI Results

The 2018 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) provides a quantitative basis for comparing, analysing, and understanding environmental performance for 180 countries.  They score and rank these countries on their environmental performance using the most recent year of data available as well as data from approximately a decade earlier.  These results reveal current standings on a core set of environmental issues and identify where progress is or is not being made.

As in previous reports and studies, the 2018 EPI shows a positive correlation with country wealth, as measured by per capita GDP. The figure below illustrates the relationship between EPI scores and wealth.

One of the consistent lessons of the EPI is that achieving sustainability goals requires the material prosperity to invest in the infrastructure necessary to protect human health and ecosystems. In a rapidly urbanizing world, it is important to build facilities for delivering improved sources of drinking water, managing wastewater, and mitigating pollution – as through smokestack scrubbers. The inherent tension of sustainable development is that income growth too often comes at the cost of the environment, especially through exploitation of natural resources and unchecked industrialisation. The trade-offs between environmental performance and country wealth is also confounded by trade. The spillover costs of trade are so far poorly captured in most metrics on the environment, though this is an area of active scholarship (Sachs, Schmidt-Traub, Kroll, Durand-Delacre, & Teksoz, 2017). The EPI’s pilot metrics further explore current efforts to improve global accounting methods to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Targets.

Another enduring finding from the EPI is that the policy objectives constitute distinct dimensions of sustainability. The figure below illustrates the relationship between sub-scores for Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality in the 2018 EPI.

While positively correlated, there is substantial variation in both dimensions. The figure suggests tension, as economic growth creates resources to invest in environmental protection while at the same time adds to pollution burdens and habitat stress.

Country Performance

2018 Environmental Protection scores by country.
Note: Darker shades indicate higher scores in overall Environmental Performance.

As the map illustrates, African countries did not rank high on the 2018 EPI.  At the bottom of the 2018 EPI rankings are the Democratic Republic of Congo (30.41) and Burundi (27.43), along with several Asian countries. Low scores on the EPI are indicative of the need for national sustainability efforts on a number of fronts, especially cleaning up air quality, protecting biodiversity, and reducing GHG emissions. Some of the lowest-ranking nations face broader challenges, such as civil unrest, but the low scores for others can be attributed to weak governance.  The EPI draws special attention to the issue category of Air Quality. As the dominant source of diseases and disability in EPI data, countries that score poorly in the 2018 EPI on Air Quality face a public health crisis that demands urgent attention.

South Africa ranks 142nd in the world, and 22nd in Sub-Saharan Africa.  This can reflect the strain that emerging economies can impose on the environment, and the level and pace of development is one of many factors affecting environmental performance.  Sustainability outcomes among emerging economies remains highly variable.

Seychelles ranks as the most-improved country over the past decade, rising from a baseline score of 47.05 to a 2018 EPI score of 66.02, equivalent to a jump of 86 places in the rankings. This improvement springs largely from its commitment to combating greenhouse gas emissions.

São Tomé and Príncipe also increased their scores due to several factors, including the establishment of areas protecting biodiversity and habitat. Burundi, Central African Republic and Madagascar 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.

The 2018 EPI Rankings. Rank, EPI score, and regional standing (REG, shown in color) for 180 countries.

Developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have the greatest to gain from improvements in environmental performance. Sub-Saharan African countries score lower than any other region, occupying 30 of the bottom 44 positions. Investments in clean water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure could help these countries significantly boost their scores. Rising populations in sub-Saharan Africa continue to put substantial pressure on limited environmental resources. The UN estimates that about half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is living on less than a dollar a day, making it the world’s poorest and least developed region (United Nations, 2014). The number of people living in slums, often without access to basic services, is expected to double to approximately 400 million people by 2020, putting even more pressure on these resources (United Nations, 2014).

High performance in sub-Saharan Africa is still possible, with Seychelles and Namibia both making significant progress on certain issue categories. Seychelles scored 39th in the overall rankings and first in its regional group. Seychelles’ rise stems largely due to improvements in the Climate & Energy issue category as a result of new policy choices that place climate change at the center of its development strategy. Seychelles’ score increased by 83.21 from a 10.04 baseline, and Seychelles is now a net sink for global GHG emissions (Republic of Seychelles, 2015, p. 1). Namibia (79th) improved its Biodiversity & Habitat score significantly over the past decade, ranking 11th in the issue category. Namibia’s deep commitment to biodiversity and environmental protection are embedded in its history. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate the environment into its constitution. Following its independence in 1990, the government returned ownership of its wildlife to the people, employing a successful, community-based management system that gave its citizens the right to create conservancies (Conniff, 2011; World Wide Fund for Nature, 2011). Today, Namibia has 148 protected areas covering 37.89% of its terrestrial environmental and 1.71% of its EEZ (United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2017).

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are dispersed throughout the middle of the 2018 global rankings, with Israel (19th), Qatar (32nd), and Morocco (54th) leading the regional rankings. Oman (116th), Libya (123rd), and Iraq (152nd) rank as the lowest performers within the region. Many MENA countries contain vast hydrocarbon reserves, which often adversely impact performance on key indicators for Air Quality and Climate and Energy. Oil refineries, hydrocarbon-generated power plants, and high fossil fuel subsidies may have impacted performance for several MENA countries. Under-pricing of energy from fossil fuel subsidies in many countries have contributed to wasteful energy use and poor performance in the Climate and Energy issue category.  However, opportunities for improvements in environmental performance exist. The MENA region shows vast potential for renewable energy and many nations have begun the process to diversify their energy portfolios.

Disclaimer: This post is an adaptation of the 2018 EPI Report.

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