A piece of bad news hit India’s green ambitions events last month! The country, aiming to go full throttle with its environmental missions this decade, ended up ranking last among 180 countries assessed on their ecological impact. The Environmental Performance Index 2022 (EPI) report ranked India 180th in terms of its performance in climate, biodiversity and health parameters, much below other South Asian countries like Afghanistan (81st), Bhutan (85th), Maldives (113th), Sri Lanka (132nd), Nepal (162nd), Pakistan (176th), Bangladesh (177th).
The EPI ranks countries based on how close they might be to achieving specific 2050 international climate targets, along with their performance in environmental health and ecosystem vitality. Therefore, a high ranking indicates that the country has longstanding and continual environmental protection schemes and policies that are at work.
As per the report, the top five best-performing countries (in order) include Denmark, the UK, Finland, Malta and Sweden, which all belong to the Global-West region. In a not-so-surprising turn of events since the Trump administration, the US ranked only 43rd overall, a distinct outlier as most wealthy countries also typically displayed high EPI score-sheets. Asia-Pacific countries performed quite terribly overall, with only two countries breaking the top 50 — Japan (25th) and Singapore (50th).
How did India fare?
The EPI rankings are determined upon 40 performance indicators that seek to indicate the state of national efforts to protect environmental health, enhance ecosystem vitality and mitigate climate change. The report also lists individual performance scores for each indicator for each of the participating countries, along with overall category scores and ranks.
In the health category, which includes air quality, sanitation, drinking water and waste management, India ranks 178th among all the countries included. Another indicator, the Ecosystem Vitality index, seeks to assess the health of our forests and their flora and fauna. Despite our extensive forest cover and abundant biodiversity, India appears to have failed in providing the appropriate safeguards, ranking only 178th overall.
On a brighter note, however, India fared somewhat better in the fishery category, claiming 42nd place overall. According to the EPI, our fish stock — a subdivision of the fishery category that assesses our dependence on overexploited or collapsed stocks — places us among the top 20 in the world.
While this is indeed a small and much-needed win, it may also be important to note that the February IPCC report predicted climate change to cause a severe decline in our fisheries, meaning this ranking could be for nought unless we strictly implement better fishing safeguards immediately.
As for agriculture-related indices — an industry our economy is heavily dependent upon — a similar story can be seen in our pesticide consumption, where India has been ranked as the 47th most responsible pesticide user in the world. India is the largest exporter of rice and many other commonly used agricultural products. In order for us to continue production at current levels and still meet climate targets, it is important that we continue to innovate sustainable practices to up our farming game.
Other EPI conclusions
While there were some “victories”, it is necessary that we do not get hung up on them. The EPI report serves as a grim reminder that there is a long way to go for rapidly developing economies like India in terms of sustainability.
For example, the report’s projections show that India is likely to join China, Russia and the US to become the largest emitter of greenhouse emissions by 2050. Furthermore, unless climate regulations and efforts are strictly reinforced, a group of 24 countries known as “the dirty two dozen” — which includes India, unfortunately — would account for up to 80% of total global emissions by 2050.
The EPI report also gives an explanation for some of the low rankings. According to them, most bottom-tier countries have been afflicted by war or other upheavals, making investing in environmental infrastructure unfortunately very difficult for these nations. They further go on to point out that India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have suffered low ranks because of this very reason, having prioritised economic growth over environmental sustainability.
India Rejects Its Ranking
The EPI methodology is framed by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Columbia University. While they claim that the methodology has been refined over two decades of meticulous data collection and assessment, India has since determined that there is much to be improvised upon.
In a statement early this month, India rejected its low ranking, claiming that many of the indicators used to assess the EPI are based on “unfounded assumptions,” with some of them “extrapolated and based on surmises and unscientific methods.”
It is worth noting that India’s score has dropped by 0.60 since the last evaluation in 2021. However, this could mean nothing as the EPI continually claims that scores calculated using old methodologies are not comparable to current scores due to changes in ranking methodology. While that may be true, it might also be noteworthy that India slipped from 168th place in 2020 to 177th place in 2021.
Elaborating on their stance in the statement, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) said that many important factors had been ignored in the new methodology that went into the study, such as taking a longer time period into account. They also asserted that the EPI had revised weightages of certain important indicators without explanation, which resulted in poor scores for India.
They also said that quite a few important indicators were omitted in the calculation of the scores, such as indicators of water quality, water use efficiency, waste generation per capita, agro biodiversity, soil health, and food loss and waste — which includes some indicators important for developing countries with large agrarian populations such as India.
Additionally, the statement noted: “The Index emphasises the extent of Protected Areas rather than the quality of protection that they afford. Management Effectiveness Evaluation of Protected areas and eco-sensitive regions are not factored into the computation of Biodiversity Indices.”
With threats such as water scarcity predicted to put as much as 40% of the population under distress by 2050, what actions India decides to take next will certainly play a major role in determining what type of life we and our children will lead in the future. We stand to be one of the most “economically harmed” nations due to climate change, threatened by rising sea levels and water scarcity that seems ready to consume our country in the coming years.
If anything, experts hope that this report serves as a reminder to our country to take more stringent measures and have better regulatory safeguards in place, in order to protect us and future generations against any lingering horrors of climate inaction.
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