Results

The 2018 EPI provides a quantitative basis for comparing, analyzing, and understanding environmental performance for 180 countries. We score and rank these countries on their environmental performance using the most recent year of data available as well as data from approximately a decade earlier. The state of the world is captured in the Global Scorecard. These results reveal current standings on a core set of environmental issues and identify where progress is or is not being made. The full results of the 2018 EPI, including country and indicator-level analysis, are available at epi.yale.edu. We highlight some of the most important results here in the report.

Characteristics of the EPI

As in previous reports and studies, the 2018 EPI shows a positive correlation with country wealth, as measured by per capita GDP. Figure 3–1 illustrates the relationship between EPI scores and wealth. One of the consistent lessons of the EPI is that achieving sustainability goals requires the material prosperity to invest in the infrastructure necessary to protect human health and ecosystems. In a rapidly urbanizing world, it is important to build facilities for delivering improved sources of drinking water, managing wastewater, and mitigating pollution – as through smokestack scrubbers. The inherent tension of sustainable development is that income growth too often comes at the cost of the environment, especially through exploitation of natural resources and unchecked industrialization. The trade-offs between environmental performance and country wealth is also confounded by trade. The spillover costs of trade are so far poorly captured in most metrics on the environment, though this is an area of active scholarship (Sachs, Schmidt-Traub, Kroll, Durand-Delacre, & Teksoz, 2017). Our pilot metrics further explore current efforts to improve global accounting methods to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and Targets.


Figure 3-1
Figure 3–1. The relationship between 2018 EPI Scores and GDP per capita.

Another enduring finding from the EPI is that the policy objectives constitute distinct dimensions of sustainability. Figure 3–2 illustrates the relationship between sub-scores for Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality in the 2018 EPI. While positively correlated, there is substantial variation in both dimensions. The figure suggests tension, as economic growth creates resources to invest in environmental protection while at the same time adds to pollution burdens and habitat stress.


Figure 3-2
Figure 3–2. The relationship between sub-scores on the two policy objectives for all 180 countries in the 2018 EPI illustrate that Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality are distinct dimensions of environmental performance.

Country Performance


Map 3–1. Overall 2018 EPI scores.
Map 3–1. 2018 Environmental Protection scores by country.
Note: Darker shades indicate higher scores in overall Environmental Performance.

Individual country ranks and EPI scores are shown in Map 3–1 and Figure 3–3. At the top of the rankings, Switzerland leads the world in the 2018 EPI with a score of 87.42 in overall environmental performance. Switzerland’s top ranking reflects strong performance across most issues, especially Climate & Energy and Air Pollution. Within Environmental Health, Switzerland also stands out in Water & Sanitation. While Switzerland’s Biodiversity & Habitat score is 84.20, 62nd in the world, its protected areas have the top score on the representativeness index.

France (83.95), Denmark (81.60), Malta (80.9), and Sweden (80.51) round out the top five countries in the 2018 EPI. Within Environmental Health, Denmark, Malta, and Sweden stand out for high scores in Air Quality. Additionally, Malta has the top rank in Water & Sanitation, and Sweden scores highest in lead exposure. On Ecosystem Vitality, France, Denmark, and Malta earn top scores in the issue category of Biodiversity & Habitat. France and Denmark rank first in marine protected areas, and Malta joins them in first place in the protection of terrestrial biomes. Sweden places third in Climate & Energy, and France and Denmark excel in sustainable nitrogen management. In general, high scorers exhibit long-standing commitments to protecting public health, preserving natural resources, and decoupling GHG emissions from economic activity.

At the bottom of the 2018 EPI rankings are Nepal (31.44), India (30.57), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (30.41), Bangladesh (29.56), and Burundi (27.43). Low scores on the EPI are indicative of the need for national sustainability efforts on a number of fronts, especially cleaning up air quality, protecting biodiversity, and reducing GHG emissions. Some of the lowest-ranking nations face broader challenges, such as civil unrest, but the low scores for others can be attributed to weak governance. We draw special attention to the issue category of Air Quality. As the dominant source of diseases and disability in our data, countries that score poorly in the 2018 EPI on Air Quality, such as India (Air Quality score of 5.75), China (14.39), and Pakistan (15.69), face a public health crisis that demands urgent attention.

The United States places 27th in the 2018 EPI, with strong scores on some issues, such as Water & Sanitation (90.92) and Air Quality (97.52), but weak performance on others, including deforestation (8.84) and GHG emissions (45.81). This ranking puts the United States near the back of the industrialized nations, behind the United Kingdom (6th), Germany (13th), Italy (16th), Japan (20th), Australia (21st) and Canada (25th).

Of the emerging economies, China and India rank 120th and 177th respectively, reflecting the strain rapid economic growth imposes on the environment. Brazil ranks 69th, suggesting that a concerted focus on sustainability as a policy priority will pay dividends – and that the level and pace of development is just one of many factors affecting environmental performance. South Africa ranks 142nd. Sustainability outcomes among emerging economies remains highly variable.

Seychelles ranks as the most-improved country over the past decade, rising from a baseline score of 47.05 to a 2018 EPI score of 66.02, equivalent to a jump of 86 places in the rankings. This improvement springs largely from its commitment to combating greenhouse gas emissions. São Tomé and Príncipe, Kuwait, and Timor-Leste also increased their scores due to several factors, including the establishment of areas protecting biodiversity and habitat. Burundi, Central African Republic, Madagascar, the Bahamas, and Latvia slipped significantly in environmental performance, largely due to sub-par performance on climate change. Countries at the top of the EPI rankings tend to not change very much over time. High scorers have little room for improvement, and the durability of good governance and investments in infrastructure make deterioration rare.

Another story of interest is Colombia. Following a peace deal between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia now has an opportunity to expand conservation efforts while promoting economic development in post-conflict regions (Palmer, 2017). The government plans to train 1,100 ex FARC fighters to track and report illegal logging and promote sustainable farming and ecotourism (Moloney, 2017). Efforts to protect rainforest habitat are also expanding. The government has doubled the area of its national parks since 2010 and plans to expand protected areas in post-conflict regions in 2018 (Palmer, 2017). The country’s modest gains in its EPI score could be a sign of promising environmental protections to come.


Figure 3-3
Figure 3–3. The 2018 EPI Rankings. Rank, EPI score, and regional standing (REG, shown in color) for 180 countries.

Global Scorecard

The Global Scorecard shows the current state of the world and movement in trends since the baseline year. In Table 3–1, at the level of the overall Environmental Protection, we see that the world is still far from achieving international targets for the environmental, with the equivalent of a score of 46.16. This is slightly better than the baseline score of 41.68. Just as we find at the country-level, the overall global score is mostly pulled down by the policy objective of Environmental Health, which has a score of 31.50. Ecosystem Vitality, on the other hand, is more robust at 55.93 yet still shows much room for improvement. Since the baseline period, Ecosystem Vitality has increased by more Environmental Health, perhaps indicating that gains from efforts to protect critical habitat and sustain natural resources have been more impactful than those which have sought to address dimensions of human and environmental health.

Trends over recent decades suggest that environmental quality is improving, indicating that the global community is moving closer to many of its development goals. The pace of progress, however, may not be fast enough to achieve the targets outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals and other international objectives. In Environmental Vitality policy objective, Biodiversity and Habitat scores indicate the international community has achieved the Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ 10% conservation goal for marine protected areas well before its 2020 target. However, we find countries must continue increase the size of protected areas within national boarders at an accelerated rate if they are to achieve the 17% terrestrial conservation target.

 

Table 3–1. Global scores for the EPI and sub-scores for policy objectives, issue categories, and indicators. Current scores are based on most recent year of data available, and Baseline applies to data roughly one decade prior.
  Current Baseline
Environmental Protection 46.16 41.68
Environmental Health 31.50 28.16
Air Quality 33.82 32.74
Household Solid Fuels 22.10 14.77
PM2.5 Exposure 33.24 36.73
PM2.5 Exceedance 50.03 52.72
Water & Sanitation 25.19 17.24
Drinking Water 25.51 17.75
Sanitation 24.87 16.72
Heavy Metals / Lead Exposure 39.23 34.20
Ecosystem Vitality 55.93 50.68
Biodiversity & Habitat 58.12 45.91
Marine Protected Areas 100.00 47.90
Terrestrial Biome Protection 64.30 57.03
Species Protection Index 67.73 63.88
Protected Area Representativeness Index 37.04 26.57
Species Habitat Index 80.07 94.93
Forests / Tree Cover Loss 94.04 99.41
Fisheries 58.22 57.52
Fish Stock Status 65.89 73.17
Regional Marine Trophic Index 50.54 41.87
Climate & Energy 42.68 37.64
CO2 Emissions Intensity – Total 31.34 25.47
CO2 Emissions Intensity – Power 42.40 40.79
Methane Emissions Intensity 64.61 58.16
N2O Emissions Intensity 58.29 52.60
Black Carbon Emissions Intensity 53.92 49.71
Air Pollution 47.74 38.06
SO2 Emissions Intensity 40.48 32.42
NOX Emissions Intensity 54.99 43.70
Water Resources / Wastewater Treatment 62.13 62.13
Agriculture / Sustainable Nitrogen Management 47.69 44.02

 

Regional Trends

European countries lead the EPI’s top performers, occupying 17 the top 20 positions. While the United States (27th) scores among the top 30 positions worldwide, it ranks towards the end of its regional standing. Many European and North American nations are members of the OECD. All are highly ranked highly on the on the United Nation’s Human Development Index, a measure of quality of life within a country. However, national trends and statistics often mask inequities at the sub-national level. The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, in the United States underscores the disproportionate environmental burdens that exist within even the most developed countries and highlights key areas for improvement among them.

The spread in rankings among Asian countries is the larger than any other region. Japan (20th), Taiwan, (23rd), and Singapore (49th) emerge as regional leaders, while countries Nepal (176th), India (177th), and Bangladesh (179th) are among the lowest performing countries in both their region and the world. The spread in scores may be explained by the varying levels of economic development within Asia. Several countries in Asia experience rapid periods of economic growth within the last century. East Asian countries, like Japan and South Korea, witnessed considerable improvements in economic productivity post World War II. These improvements often translated into higher levels of human development and environmental performance. Conversely, many Asian countries in South and Southeast Asia, are still in a state of transition. India’s low scores are influenced by poor performance in the in Environmental Health policy objective. Deaths attributed to PM2.5 have risen over the past decade and are estimated at 1,640,113, annually (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2017). Despite government action, pollution from solid fuels, coal and crop residue burning, and emissions from motor vehicles continue to severely degrade the air quality for millions of Indians.

Latin American nations are broadly distributed over the middle half of the 2018 EPI rankings. Costa Rica leads Latin America in the 30th position with a score of 67.85. Guyana received the lowest score in the region, landing in the 128th position with a score of 47.93. Levels of development vary widely among Latin American countries, resulting in a broad range of effective governance and in turn the provision of services for human health and the protection of ecosystems. For example, the per capita GDP of Honduras was estimated to be $5,500 in 2017 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2018b)  while in contrast, Chile’s per capita GDP was estimated to be $24,600 (Central Intelligence Agency, 2018a). Environmental performance is of critical interest as Latin America is home to over 40% of the earth’s biodiversity and more than 25% of its forests. The area also encompasses the Amazon rainforest, the world’s most biodiverse region (United Nations Environment Programme, 2016).

While Latin America made uneven progress on the issue categories examined in the 2018 EPI, a few bright spots emerged from the results. In 2017, Mexico created four new marine protected areas (MPAs) (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2017b). Mexico’s MPA at Revillagigedo is now the largest no-fishing area in North America (International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 2017a)and supports nearly 360 species of fish, coral colonies, and four species of sea turtle (Bello, 2017). The 2018 EPI also identified Peru as one of the world’s leaders in the sustainable management of fisheries. Three Peruvian Fisheries Acts were enacted after 1995, and greatly improved the sustainability of the nation’s anchovy fishery. The legislation served to regulate foreign involvement in the fishery, control fishing quotas, and establish fishing seasons (Arias Schreiber, 2012).

Haiti (174th) falls far below other countries in its peer group and is the only country outside sub-Saharan Africa and Asia that falls in the bottom 20 overall rankings. While Caribbean countries face several development challenges, including a limited land area for development, deforestation, and reliance on imports for energy needs, Haiti, the 7th worst performer, has faced significant political, economic, and social setbacks throughout its history (United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Development Programme, & World Food Programme, 2013). Haiti and the Dominican Republic (46th) share an island, but environmental conditions on the two countries are vastly different. Haiti had substantially weaker performance than the Dominican Republic in the issue categories Water & Sanitation and Biodiversity & Habitat, scoring 26.95 points and 72.67 points lower, respectively. Both countries, however, score poorly in agriculture and forests, indicating that soil erosion and deforestation remain key concerns on the island.

Countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are dispersed throughout the middle of the 2018 global rankings, with Israel (19th), Qatar (32nd), and Morocco (54th) leading the regional rankings. Oman (116th), Libya (123rd), and Iraq (152nd) rank as the lowest performers within the region. Many MENA countries contain vast hydrocarbon reserves, which often adversely impact performance on key indicators for Air Quality and Climate and Energy. Oil refineries, hydrocarbon-generated power plants, and high fossil fuel subsidies may have impacted performance for several MENA countries. Underpricing of energy from fossil fuel subsidies in many countries have contributed to wasteful energy use and poor performance in the Climate and Energy issue category. For example, the United Arab Emirates, a country with large economic resources and high quality of life, ranks 166th. Other countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, also score low in the Climate and Energy issue category, ranking 134th and 161st, respectively. Opportunities for improvements in environmental performance exist. The MENA region shows vast potential for renewable energy and many nations have begun the process to diversity their energy portfolios.

Scores for Eastern Europe and Eurasia range widely. Some exhibit effective environmental regulations, and 14 countries place within the top 50 globally. Russia, the most politically and economically influential country in this region, ranks 15th in the region and 52nd overall. Russia’s score is boosted by high performance in the Water Resources and Wastewater Treatment issue categories. In the Forests category Russia scores poorly, despite having the most total tree cover of any country. Several countries in the region score very highly in the Forests category. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have successfully prevented recent tree cover loss. These scores may be influenced by the relatively small tree cover in these counties (World Bank, 2017). Bosnia and Herzegovina has the lowest score in the region by far, ranking 158th overall. The country scores poorly in most categories and receives 0 scores for water resources and wastewater treatment. According to the IMF, Bosnia and Herzegovina may be growing after decades of hardship. Attention on environmental policymaking and enforcement could boost the country’s performance in future years (International Monetary Fund, 2015).

Countries in the Pacific region exhibit a broad range of scores, with New Zealand (17th) and Australia (21st) at the top of the group, demonstrating strong overall environmental performance. This is not surprising considering both nations wield considerable political and economic influence throughout the region and globally. In contrast, a majority of the Pacific countries with lower rankings are small island developing States with limited economic resources and weak or insufficient environmental governance. Vanuatu (144th) and the Solomon Islands (151st) exhibit the weakest EPI scores in the region. Over the past decade, countries in the Pacific region have experienced significant amounts of deforestation, and forest management is a high priority concern for the region. Low scores in the Forests issue category reflects a need to establish strong sustainable forest management measures as soon as possible if they hope to maintain vital ecosystem services.

Developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, have the greatest to gain from improvements in environmental performance. Sub-Saharan African countries score lower than any other region, occupying 30 of the bottom 44 positions. Investments in clean water, sanitation, and energy infrastructure could help these countries significantly boost their scores. Rising populations in sub-Saharan Africa continue to put substantial pressure on limited environmental resources. The UN estimates that about half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is living on less than a dollar a day, making it the world’s poorest and least developed region (United Nations, 2014). The number of people living in slums, often without access to basic services, is expected to double to approximately 400 million people by 2020, putting even more pressure on these resources (United Nations, 2014).

High performance in sub-Saharan Africa is still possible, with Seychelles and Namibia both making significant progress on certain issue categories. Seychelles scored 39th in the overall rankings and first in its regional group. Seychelles’ rise stems largely due to improvements in the Climate & Energy issue category as a result of new policy choices that place climate change at the center of its development strategy. Seychelles’ score increased by 83.21 from a 10.04 baseline, and Seychelles is now a net sink for global GHG emissions (Republic of Seychelles, 2015, p. 1). Namibia (79th) improved its Biodiversity & Habitat score significantly over the past decade, ranking 11th in the issue category. Namibia’s deep commitment to biodiversity and environmental protection are embedded in its history. Namibia was the first African country to incorporate the environment into its constitution. Following its independence in 1990, the government returned ownership its wildlife to the people, employing a successful, community-based management system that gave its citizens the right to create conservancies (Conniff, 2011; World Wide Fund for Nature, 2011). Today, Namibia has 148 protected areas covering 37.89% of its terrestrial environmental and 1.71% of its EEZ (United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre, 2017).

 

Key Findings

Environmental Health

Across the policy objective of Environmental Health, we find that environmental performance has increased only slightly over the past decade. Global scores have improved 3.34 points relative to a baseline of 28.16. Significant progress is still needed at the global level to protect public health and reach global international targets – see Map 3–2.

Map 3–2. 2018 EPI scores for the Environmental Health policy objective by country.
Note: Darker shades indicate higher scores in Environmental Health.

Key findings in the Environmental Health policy obejective include:

  • Air Quality remains the leading environmental threat to public health. In 2016, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimated that diseases related to airborne pollutants contributed to two-thirds of all life-years lost to environmentally related deaths and disabilities. Pollution is particularly severe in places such as India and China, where greater levels of economic development contribute to higher pollution levels (World Bank and Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, 2016). As countries develop, increased population growth in large cities, as well as increased industrial production and automotive transportation, continue to expose people to high levels of air pollution.
  • As nations industrialize, governments generally tighten regulations for Water & Sanitation. Investments in sanitation infrastructure mean fewer people are exposed to unsafe water, leading to fewer deaths from the associated risks. However, while global trends suggest a tightening on environmental regulations globally as nations industrialize, rapid growth in developing countries should remain a global priority. Countries should continue to develop capacity to ensure growth in infrastructure keeps pace with population growth. Considerable action is still needed to ensure that safe drinking water and sanitation services are available worldwide.
  • While exposure to Heavy Metals persists globally, many countries are managing to reduce lead poisoning despite a global increase in lead production. Regulations have proven effective in limiting exposure from sources including petrol, paint, and plumbing. Most notable is the phase-out of leaded gasoline in more than 175 countries (Landrigan et al., 2017, p. 17). Problems persist in developing and urbanizing countries with high demand for lead batteries (Landrigan et al., 2017, p. 16). Balancing economic development with pollution regulations will be key to minimizing the costly health impacts of lead exposure and continuing the encouraging global trend.

Ecosystem Vitality

Across the Ecosystem Vitality policy objective, we find environmental performance has increased slightly. Global scores have increased 5.25 points relative to a baseline of 50.68. Despite this progress, the world is still far from achieving Ecosystem Vitality objectives – see Map 3–3. Key findings across the seven issues categories within the Ecosystem Vitality policy objective reveal areas of strong and week performance in greater detail. These findings may be beneficial to policymakers as they both characterize promising trends in environmental management and governance and identify areas in need of greater attention.

Map 3–3. Ecosystem Vitality scores by country
Map 3–3. 2018 EPI scores for the Ecosystem Vitality policy objective by country.
Note: Darker shades indicate higher scores in Ecosystem Vitality.

Key findings in the Ecosystem Vitality policy objective include: 

  • In Biodiversity & Habitat, the world has made great strides in protecting marine and terrestrial biomes, exceeding the international goal for marine protection in 2014. Additional indicators measuring terrestrial protected areas suggest, however, that more work needs to be done to ensure the presence of high-quality habitat free from human pressures.
  • For Forests, deforestation in a small group of countries contributed substantially to increases in global tree cover loss. Fires, illegal logging, and land conversion for palm oil production and other agricultural purposes continue to threaten forest habitat in much of the world. Despite advances in remote sensing technologies, a lack of a universal definition for a forest and the absence of harmonized monitoring efforts limit the ability to assess the state of forests in a comprehensive manner.
  • Global trends in Fisheries scores indicate countries are increasingly harvesting fish from stocks that are overexploited or collapsed, while also targeting higher tropic-level species. A 7.28-point decline fish stock status scores is of particular concern, as overfishing is the primary cause of decline in global fisheries. Formulation of new indicators that better characterize the impacts of fishing on marine ecosystems and expanded monitoring efforts that collect and report data in more detail will be essential to the preservation of global fish stocks, and the communities that rely on them. 
  • In Climate & Energy, most countries improved GHG emissions intensity over the past ten years. Three-fifths of countries in the EPI have declining CO2 intensities, while 85–90% of countries have declining intensities for methane, nitrous oxide, and black carbon. These trends are promising yet must be accelerated to meet the ambitious targets of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Air Pollution scores for all countries have improved as global emissions intensities for both sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrous oxides (NOx) have fallen over a ten-year period. Despite progress at the global level, vast inequities between developed and developing persist. Countries with high coal consumption and large hydrocarbon reserves and refinery capacity continue to experience high levels of SO2 and NOx emissions relative to GDP. 
  • In Water Resources, unavailability of global wastewater treatment data, the global performance in wastewater treatment has not changed from the baseline. The spread in country performance is strongly related to economic development. Large amounts of missing data in global inventories indicate the difficulty of identifying wastewater treatment connection values in developing countries and underscore the need ramp up infrastructure planning and data collection efforts to satisfy the targets in SDG 6 (water and sanitation).
  • In Agriculture, we find that much of the small improvement in nitrogen management over a ten-year period is the result of increased yields rather than increased efficiency. Mismanagement of nitrogen across the agricultural sector continues to threaten the health and sustainability of our natural. New indicators that better take into account regional variation in nitrogen use, country-specific benchmarks, and trade could improve global monitoring efforts. 

With 20 years of experience, the EPI reveals a tension between two fundamental dimensions of sustainable development: (1) environmental health, which rises with economic growth and prosperity, and (2) ecosystem vitality, which comes under strain from industrialization and urbanization. Good governance emerges as the critical factor required to balance these distinct dimensions of sustainability.

Other Findings

  • Better environmental measurement and indicators have great potential for guiding data-driven environmental policymaking. The 2018 EPI identifies areas for improvement in all areas. There have been some recent improvements, and technological progress in data collection have enabled better global monitoring of some environmental indicators. Data are still insufficient in some areas of high concern, preventing EPI from including measurements of issues such as freshwater quality, species loss, climate adaptation, and waste management when calculating each country’s performance. Better data collection is needed to manage these resources for human and ecosystem health. 
  • Actions that improve environmental performance often take place at the sub-national level. In large and diverse countries such as the United States, China, and Russia, performance on EPI indicators can vary regionally. As an example, due to differences in soil and unevenly distributed economic activity, the nitrogen use efficiency within each country will vary widely from region to region. National level measurements can therefore lose local relevance. Similarly, environmental impacts from pollution or resource extraction are not typically confined by political borders. Climate change highlights the fact that global environmental impacts are created by local activities. Using a country as the unit measure for environmental problems has advantages, but can obscure the realities of environmental performance. 

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