Last month, India protested against its ranking on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) of 2022, prepared by researchers at the Yale and Columbia Universities in the U.S. The report measures 40 performance indicators across 11 categories to measure the “state of sustainability around the world.” India was ranked last (180) with low scores across a range of indicators. The Indian Government as well as environment experts have pointed to the faulty methodology of the index that skews the results in favour of the Global North.
What are the issues with the methodology?
Rating by its very nature is a subjective exercise. But a good rating is one that tries to reduce subjectivity, normalises all indicators, and then develops consensus around the subjective issues. The first step is to remove subjectivity as much as possible. Every rating will end up comparing apples with oranges, if you don’t normalise the indicators. So, the second step is to normalise indicators. Third, if there is subjectivity, you get experts to generate consensus around it. All three have not been done.
Can you give an example of where this lack of normalisation has impacted India’s rank in a category?
EPI has used tree cover loss as an indicator to rate deforestation in a country. Eritrea is the best country [as per the ranking]. The total dense forest cover in Eritrea is only about 50 hectares, which is similar to forest cover in one part of Lutyens’ Delhi. How do you compare absolute tree cover loss of a country with 50 ha dense forest with, say, India with millions of ha of dense forest and a tree cover loss of 1 lakh ha?
How is Brazil ranked much higher than India, despite rampant deforestation in the Amazon rainforest?
There’s a real problem because habitat is being measured in terms of what percentage of the country is under protection. Brazil could be doing well because it’s a big country with a relatively low population density. A significant percentage of Brazil is under protected area. But in a densely populated country like India, you are not going to be able to put a high proportion of area under strict protection.
In preparation for the upcoming COP 27, what should India be doing, especially since we’ve seen an increased coal production target?
The Russia-Ukraine crisis could have been an opportunity for all of us to start investing massively in renewable energy. But fossil fuel companies have used this short-term deficit in energy supply as an opportunity to open new fossil fuel establishments. In India, fossil fuel consumption is going to increase in the short term. If we are smart, we will try and peak coal as quickly as possible. That would be our roadmap.