India has emerged as Asia’s worst environmental performer, ranking just 155th out of 178 countries studied by Yale University researchers in their 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI). A bottom performer on nearly every policy issue included in the 2014 EPI, with the exception of forests, fisheries, and water resources, India’s performance lags most notably in the protection of human health from environmental harm.
The country, in fact, performed worst among other large emerging economies that make up the BRICS bloc, with China ranking 118th, Brazil 77th, Russia, at 73rd, and South Africa at 72nd, the researchers said in a statement.
In particular, India’s air quality is among the worst in the world, tying China in terms of the proportion of the population exposed to average air pollution levels exceeding World Health Organization thresholds.
The stresses of urbanization without sufficient investment in environmental protection help explain why India has seen a 100 percent decline in its air quality scores over the past decade. While media attention has focused on neighboring China’s air quality over the last year, India and other South Asian countries, including Bangladesh and Nepal, rank the worst in the EPI’s air quality category.
With expanded data coverage, the 2014 EPI ranks 46 more countries than the last EPI release. These countries are mostly sub-Saharan African nations and Small Island Developing States, providing a first look at where these developing countries stand on their environmental efforts.
The sweeping coverage of the 2014 EPI reveals important global trends. For example, the world is doing well on improving drinking water and sanitation. Child mortality has declined as a result.
Progress in these categories tracks the concerted pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals, which have clear targets, strategies, and metrics for assessment on water and sanitation.
Setting clear targets help
Poor environmental performance is difficult to improve when policymakers do not set clear targets, as with fisheries, industrial wastewater treatment, and air quality. Since 2000, the number of people breathing unsafe air has risen by 606 million people, to a total of 1.78 billion. These numbers are heavily concentrated in the developing world.
“The EPI reveals that improved environmental results are possible when measurement and management practices align,” said Yale University professor Daniel Esty. “When data and measurement are poor or not in concert with policy priorities, natural and human systems suffer.”
The Index also demonstrates what happens when countries are unable to prioritize environmental management.While the 2014 EPI offers an overview of global performance on some issues, it also reveals distressing data gaps. The sustainability of agricultural practices and toxic chemical exposure, among a range of critical policy challenges, have virtually no reliable metrics by which to identify priority needs, set policy targets, or evaluate national performance.
Delivering better data will not be easy. “It is going to require more than just the work of national governments and NGOs,” said Kim Samuel, the EPI’s co-creator.