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The newly released Environmental Performance Index (EPI) 2022, measured by Yale and Columbia Universities, ranks India last out of 180 countries. The Environment Ministry has issued a rebuttal stating that the indicators used in the assessment are based on “unfounded assumptions”.

So what is this index?

The EPI is an international ranking system of countries based on their environmental health. It is a biennial index first introduced in 2002 as the Environment Sustainability Index by the World Economic Forum in collaboration with the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Columbia University Center for International Earth Information Network.

EPI 2022 uses 40 performance indicators to assess and rank 180 countries. The report says it uses the most recent data, and the indicators “measure how close countries are to meeting internationally set sustainability goals for specific environmental issues.”

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The 40 indicators fall under the broad categories of climate change performance, environmental health and ecosystem vitality. The 2022 EPI has added new parameters to its previous assessments, with projections of progress towards net-zero emissions in 2050, as well as new air quality indicators and sustainable use of pesticides.

How bad is India’s PPI score?

Ranked 180th with a score of 18.9, India has fallen from ranked 168th with a score of 27.6 in 2020. India ranks worst after Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Myanmar. Denmark tops the list with a score of 77.9.

India ranks low on a number of indicators including Ecosystem Vitality (178th), Biodiversity (179th), Biodiversity Habitat Index (170th), Species Conservation Index (175th), Wetland Loss, Air Quality (179th), PM 2.5 (174th) , heavy metals such as lead in water (174th place), waste management (151st place) and climate policy (165th place) including projected greenhouse gas emissions (171st place).

According to the report, India has also performed poorly in the areas of rule of law, corruption control and government effectiveness.

What objections has India raised?

In a statement on Wednesday, the Department for Environment, Forests and Climate Change said: “Some of these indicators used to assess performance are extrapolated and based on guesswork and unscientific methods.”

Ministry officials cited two main concerns – that baseline data did not appear to have been used and that there was no explanation for the weighting of certain indicators. “It’s not like comparing apples to apples, it’s like comparing apples to oranges,” one official said.

The ministry said the shift in emphasis on many indicators has led to India’s low ranking. For example, India’s score for carbon black growth actually improved from 32 in 2020 to 100 (the highest score) in 2022, but the weight of this indicator was reduced from 0.018 in 2020 to 0.0038 in 2022.

The government has objected to calculations of greenhouse gas projections for 2050 that tie in with countries’ net-zero targets. India has set a net zero target for 2070, in contrast to developed countries which have set a 2050 target.

What is the objection to projection?

The government said the greenhouse gas emissions forecast was calculated based on the average rate of change in emissions over the past 10 years, rather than modeling that takes into account a longer period of time, the scale of renewable energy capacity and use, additional carbon sinks and energy efficiency, etc It said key carbon sinks that mitigate greenhouse gases, such as forests and wetlands, were not considered. India’s low-emission trajectory has been ignored in contrast to developed countries’ historical high trajectories, it said.

The government has objected to the low weighting of GHG emissions per capita (2.6%). “No indicator talks about renewable energy, energy efficiency and process optimization,” it said.

Among other objections raised: the Index emphasizes the extent of protected areas rather than the quality of protection they provide; the calculation of biodiversity indices does not take into account management effectiveness Assessment of protected areas the index calculates the extent of ecosystems but not their condition or productivity; Indicators such as agrobiodiversity, soil health, food losses and waste are not included, although they are important for developing countries with large agricultural populations.

Do environmental scientists agree with the report?

dr Navroz Dubash of the Center for Policy Research, one of the authors of the latest International Report on Climate Change (IPCC), said the EPI report’s climate change parameter was “highly problematic”.
“Of course, the weighting is at the agency’s discretion, but giving climate change such a high weighting is problematic. The 2022 EPI assumes that every country needs to reach net-zero by 2050 – while developing countries will need more time. Unlike many developed countries that have peaked, greenhouse gas emissions in poorer countries will continue to rise for some time. We cannot be expected to give up energy for development. The EPI 2022 is neither ethically correct nor does it reflect political reality. Furthermore, the methodology EPI used for its 2050 projections, using emissions over the past decade, is extremely crude,” Dubash said.

In developing countries, many of which, like India, have low emissions pathways, the contribution is not to reduce emissions but to “avoid committing to higher emissions pathways”. “That’s what is expected of developing countries, but this methodology doesn’t allow for that and the government is right in pointing that out,” he said. He said the EPI assumes that every country is in the same position economically, developmentally and environmentally.

IIT Delhi professor and air pollution expert Dr. Sagnik Dey said the low weighting of per capita GHG emissions automatically lowers the ranks of countries like India and China. “Even if air pollution levels decrease steadily, in countries like India and China, because of their large populations, the total number of health burdens or, for example, DALY will always be high and therefore always end up at the bottom of the list when per capita GHG emissions decrease weighted.”

So how seriously should the findings be taken?

dr Dey warned that despite the inconsistencies, the government should not ignore the fact that India ranked 168th in 2020 and has never been in the top 150 countries since the index began.

dr Dubash said that despite the problems with the EPI, India has serious local environmental issues that the report highlighted and need to be addressed.

dr Biodiversity Collective Coordinator Ravi Chellam said: “Much smaller and poorer countries have done better. I don’t think we should just get carried away by rank. When other countries underperform, India’s ranking improves. It is important to focus on sustainable development paths that we need to embark on immediately.”

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