Seychelles leads Africa in efforts to protect the environment and mitigate climate change as Denmark takes the world’s top spot, new global report shows.
The 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) compiled by researchers at Yale and Columbia universities gives Denmark a top score of 82.5, which reflects strong performance in conserving the environment and managing climate change.
Seychelles, an Indian Ocean archipelago, has an index of 58.2 – the best score in Africa and is ranked at position 38 globally.
South Africa and Nigeria, the biggest economies on the continent, are ranked at position 98 and 151 respectively.
The EPI index ranks nations based on key performance indicators around environmental health and ecosystem vitality. This includes air quality, sanitation and drinking water, waste management, forest cover, biodiversity and habitat, air pollution emissions and climate and energy.
“These indicators provide a gauge at a national scale of how close countries are to established environmental policy targets. The EPI offers a scorecard that highlights leaders and laggards in environmental performance and provides practical guidance for countries that aspire to move toward a sustainable future,” the researchers say in a research note.
In East Africa, Uganda is the best performer in the environmental rankings at position 127 globally, followed by Kenya ranked at 132, Ethiopia (134) while Rwanda comes in at position 137. Tanzania is ranked 150, ahead of Nigeria.
The index provides a way to spot problems, set targets, track trends, understand outcomes, and identify best policy practices. Good data and fact-based analysis can also help government officials refine their policy agendas, facilitate communications with key stakeholders, and maximize the return on environmental investments. The EPI offers a powerful policy tool in support of efforts to meet the targets of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) and to move society toward a sustainable future.
A number of striking conclusions emerged from the 2020 EPI rankings and indicators:
- Good policy results are associated with wealth (GDP per capita)
This means that economic prosperity makes it possible for nations to invest in policies and programs that lead to desirable outcomes. This trend is especially true for issues such as building the necessary infrastructure to provide clean drinking water and sanitation, reduce ambient air pollution, control hazardous waste, and respond to public health crises yields large returns for human well-being.
- Pursuit of economic prosperity – manifested in industrialization and urbanisation – often means more pollution and other strains on ecosystem vitality, especially in the developing world, where air and water emissions remain significant.
However, the data suggest countries don’t have to sacrifice sustainability for economic security or vice versa. There are countries that have risen above their economic peers. Policymakers and other stakeholders in these leading countries demonstrate that focused attention can mobilize communities to protect natural resources and human well-being despite the strains associated with economic growth. In this regard, indicators of good governance – including commitment to the rule of law, a vibrant press, and even-handed enforcement of regulations – have strong relationships with top-tier EPI scores.
- While top EPI performers pay attention to all areas of sustainability, their lagging peers tend to have uneven performance.
Denmark, which ranks position one, has strong results across most issues and with leading-edge commitments and outcomes with regard to climate change mitigation. In general, high scorers exhibit long-standing policies and programs to protect public health, preserve natural resources, and decrease greenhouse gas emissions. The data further suggest that countries making concerted efforts to decarbonize their electricity sectors have made the greatest gains in combating climate change, with associated benefits for ecosystems and human health. We note, however, that every country – including those at the top of the EPI rankings – still has issues to improve upon. No country can claim to be on a fully sustainable trajectory.
- Laggards must redouble national sustainability efforts along all fronts.
A number of important countries in the Global South, including India and Nigeria, come out near the bottom of the rankings. Their low EPI scores indicate the need for greater attention to the spectrum of sustainability requirements, with a high-priority focus on critical issues such as air and water quality, biodiversity, and climate change. Some of the other laggards, including Nepal and Afghanistan, face broader challenges such as civil unrest, and their low scores can almost all be attributed to weak governance.