Environment Performance Index: Yale counters India’s claim that report was based on unscientific methods

India, last on Environment Performance Index 2022, was faring poorly since 2016

By Jayanta Basu
Published: Monday 27 June 2022

The recently released Environment Performance Index (EPI) report, that has put India at the bottom of 180 countries assessed, is neither based on surmises nor unscientific methods, said a senior scientist with the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy to Down To Earth (DTE).

The statement debunked allegations made by the Union Ministry of Environment Forest and Environment (MoEF&CC) June 8, 2022 challenging the findings of the report.

Millions of premature deaths occur in India every year due to its poor ambient air quality and this is among the reasons why the country ranked lowest among 180 countries, the organisation said in the report released May 31, 2022. The data was from the Global Burden of Disease that undergirded the EPI analyses.

India’s poor performance in the 2022 EPI reflects several persistent sustainability challenges, the Yale noted, highlighting that the country ranked 179th in both the ‘Air Quality’ and ‘Biodiversity & Habitat’ categories. 

India has struggled to make progress on biodiversity and habitat conservation as well as combatting climate change in recent years, the report mentioned. “The country’s recent efforts to expand renewable energy are praiseworthy (but its) current investments in decarbonisation and clean energy are insufficient.”

MoEF&CC had announced that it “does not accept” the analysis and conclusions of the report, adding: 

The Environmental Performance Index 2022 released recently has many indicators based on unfounded assumptions. Some of these indicators used for assessing performance are extrapolated and based on surmises and unscientific methods.

‘Wrong to reject data-driven tool’

“We are aware of the Indian government’s response to our report, and regret that they have decided to reject a useful data-driven tool instead of leveraging its findings to improve the environmental health of India,” said Martin Wolf, principal investigator of the report in an exclusive interview with this reporter.

The concerns of the Indian government are misplaced, he said. “The ministry would prefer analyses where the EPI ranks countries on their policy intentions rather than on the current state of environmental conditions.”

The environmental performance index has always based our rankings on country performance today; not on what a country promises to accomplish years or decades from now, the Yale scientist said. “Our indicators instead track real-world conditions that reflect the current state of environmental conditions.”

He is sympathetic to the equity issues raised by India, he said, adding: 

EPI team does not rank countries on their historical emissions. The goal of EPI is to inform current policy choices, not place blame on countries for contributing to climate change or destroying the environment.

“EPI adjusts the weights given to indicators to reflect a balanced scorecard. We do not adjust weights to punish certain countries,” he stated, refuting the Indian government’s allegation that the importance of the indicators, in which the country was performing well, has been diluted.

It doesn’t do much good to compare India to developed countries such as Denmark or the United Kingdom, the scientist observed. “However, it is useful to compare India to other major developing countries, like China. These two countries have things to learn from each other”.

He emphasised that EPI is not just a climate report. The country rankings also reflect air quality, water quality, agriculture and fisheries, Wolf added. “Thus, India’s low score reflects poor performance across a variety of important environmental issues.”

Indian government rejected ranking

MoEF&CC claimed that the “index has many indicators based on unfounded assumptions (and) some of these indicators used for assessing performance are extrapolated and based on surmises and unscientific methods”.

The Centre claimed that the indicator Projected GHG Emissions levels in 2050 was “computed based on average rate of change in emission of the last 10 years instead of modelling that takes into account a longer time period”. The same argument was made for other factors like the extent of renewable energy capacity and use, additional carbon sinks as well as energy efficiency of countries.

It also alleged that the historical data on the lowest emission trajectory has been ignored in the computation. “The weight of indicators in which the country (India) was performing well has been reduced,” read the government response.

India has already achieved the target of 40 per cent of installed electricity capacity from non-fossil fuel-based sources, the ministry mentioned in its statement.

“While it's not fair to compare the global south and north on the same benchmark, we have to also accept that India’s performance in the environment needs a lot of improvement,” said Nilanjan Ghosh, an environment economist and director of the Kolkata chapter of the think-tank Observer Research Foundation. “Clearly high growth targeted is impacting environmental performance of the country.”

“There was a lot of hue and cry due to India ranking the lowest in the global environment performance index; but one should not be surprised as India was consistently doing poorly over the last few years in EPI,” admitted a Union environment department official.

The official reminded that India ranked 168 in 2020, 177 in 2018 after slipping from the 141 st rank in 2016. 

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