The 2022 Environmental Protection Index, conducted by researchers from Columbia and Yale, is a data-driven review of the state of sustainability around the world based on 40 performance metrics related to ecosystem health, public health, the environment, and climate change.
Explaining variations in ranking
The study, particularly noteworthy in the stark disparity between the United States of America and its peers, reveals several key factors that contribute to higher rankings: the effectiveness of governance, the rule of law, the standard of regulations, happiness, and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. Some of these findings are self-evident－it is no secret that financial resources are fundamental to sustainable development and investing in environmental preservation.
But significant discrepancies in results among developed nations prove that policy decisions play an equally vital role－leaders steer their nations toward a more sustainable future if they carefully manage environmental issues and natural resource consumption. The United States came in at number 43 out of 180 nations in the index, trailing its counterparts partly due to the recent weakening of environmental protections and its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.
Analysing the scorecard
According to EPI forecasts, few nations, such as Finland, the United Kingdom and Denmark, will be greenhouse gas neutral by 2050 due to the implementation of comprehensive climate change strategies. For instance, Denmark (which sits atop the rankings with strong leadership in sustainable agriculture) has an extensive policy agenda, including recently increased GHG levels, allowing for a 70% reduction in emissions nationwide by 2030 in comparison to 1990.
The United States falls behind the majority of wealthy western democracies in the overall rankings, including France (12th), Germany (13th), Australia (17th), Italy (23rd), and Japan (25th). In fact, according to projections based on data from 2010 through 2019, it is among four nations likely to fall far short of the net-zero target of GHG emissions set by the 2021 Glasgow Climate Pact. If climate change policies are not reinforced and trajectories remain unchanged, by 2050 over 50% of global emissions are anticipated to come from the U.S., China, India, and Russia.
Nations that hover at the bottom of the rankings are often those where economic expansion has taken precedence over environmental sustainability, like India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. India, for the first time, comes in last due to its increasing GHG emissions and poor air quality, both factors that contribute to China’s position at 160th out of 180. According to the EPI’s new air quality criteria, the majority of people, especially in south Asian countries like Pakistan and Nepal, breathe dangerous air, accounting for over eight million premature deaths a year. It is in sectors such as these that innovations in climate technology can make a substantial contribution, working in tandem with regional industries to expose weaknesses in energy usage, analyse data, and outline more efficient means of consumption. The climate crisis only shows signs of escalating. Intelligent algorithms must be used to weigh profit against carbon footprints and environmental stability.
Steady improvements in certain sectors
However, it’s not all bad news. Though the 2022 EPI biodiversity metrics indicated both significant developments and ongoing challenges in protecting global habitats, trends indicate that in the last ten years, many nations have advanced significantly on important environmental health issues. Belgium, the United Arab Emirates, Croatia, and Niger all received high grades for the tremendous growth in protected habitats within their borders. Meanwhile, gains in indoor air pollution, drinking water, and sanitation demonstrate how investments in increasingly efficient home technology (such as cleaner cooking stoves) and environmental infrastructure (like wastewater treatment facilities) can result in major breakthroughs in public health. Furthermore the worldwide target of safeguarding 10% of coastlines has been met, though overfishing continues to be a source of concern.
The bottom line
With the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, there has been a push for analytically rigorous environmental policymaking around the world. That said, researchers assert that blind-spots in data collection and subpar information networks－particularly in the areas of agriculture, freshwater quality, chemical exposure, and ecosystem protection－continue to hinder any substantial headway towards a sustainable future.