The article is authored by Anshika Agarwal, pursuing BA.LLB. from Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, GGSIPU, New Delhi. The article aims to feature the trends observed in Yale University’s 12th edition of the Environmental Performance Index 2020, released on 4th of June. The author analyses the performance of the countries worldwide on various parameters to reach on some viable conclusions.  


The environment has always been a silent sufferer in the hands of technological advancements. The suffering has only become graver with the growing years. The year 2019 observed some of the exceptional climatic changes in the form of Amazon forests fires and Australian Bush Fires in its latter half. Before the world could enter into some other environmental catastrophe, the spread of COVID 19 came as a healer.

When the functioning of the world seems to halt and the economy is all ruptured owing to the worldwide lockdowns imposed in the lieu of the coronavirus pandemic, the environment seems to revive. The pandemic is turning out to be a blessing to Mother Earth, for the environment has recorded some of the exceptionally positive climatic changes. With the worldwide shutdown of factories, industries and air and land movement, the carbon emission levels have recorded a drastic low. To this effect, the month of April observed a shrinking in the size of the world’s largest ozone hole over the Arctic to the size zero. 

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India too recorded some of the extraordinary climatic changes with bluer skies, cleaner air and healthier rivers and basins. Nearly 8 lakhs Olive Ridley turtles, one of the many endangered species made a historic return to the shores of Odisha. Delhi showed an improvement in its air quality index with “satisfactory” air quality, reporting a low of 93 as per the  IQ Air Reports.

Amidst all this, the World Economic Forum comes up with its 12th edition of the much-awaited biennial report titled Environment Performance Index 2020 on the 4th of June. Based on the data collected from the studies and surveys conducted mainly in 2017 and 2018, the report does not exhibit the recent trends in the environment that can be seen because of the pandemic. It directs our attention towards the responsive actions undertaken by the different countries in combating the environmental challenges.

Environment Performance Index 

The Environment Performance Index prepared by the research units at Yale and Columbia Universities in collaboration with the World Economic Forum and Joint Research Centre of the European Commission is a data-driven and numeric representation of the countries’ environmental policies. The first edition of this index, developed from the Pilot Environmental Performance Index, was released in 2002 with an agenda to realise the United Nations Millennium Goals. 

The index assesses the countries on the basis of the methods adopted and strategies undertaken to overcome the environmental risks. The data retrieved from varied research institutions, surveys, reports and studies are then compiled to release a ranking system consisting of 180 countries. The ranking is on the basis of 32 performance indicators across 11 categories. These parameters put forward a granular and comparative analysis of the nations, addressing them on the basis of their environmental performance.

Environment Performance Indicators

Environment Performance Indicators are the primary parameters related to human health and environmental ecosystem to determine the efficacy of an institution in battling environmental challenges. These indicators provide a well-researched database enabling countries to identify the grey areas in their policies and reflect on them. The 32 indicators employed in preparing the EPI takes into consideration the following perspectives:

  • Relevance

These indicators work to identify the potential environmental risks involved in the activities undertaken by the nations by segregating highly risked activities.

  • Comparability

Comparing the environmental reportings of various organisations becomes essential when it comes to a detailed comprehensive study of the environmental policies. The indicators with their scoring mechanisms provide for a comparative and granular analysis of the data.

  • Verifiability

These performance indicators prioritise the authenticity of the data. The scores retrieved from estimating different environmental aspects are compiled together to reach to some robust and clear conclusions. The collective data is hence validated and provides for a deeper analysis.

  • Clarity

Another important aspect that needs to be complied with while preparing the index is the clarity of data. Parameters like the average energy consumption of an organisation require an appropriate scale to measure the utilisation. The index uses such time-based scales and indicators to avoid ambiguities while reporting such figures. 

  • Comprehensiveness

The index aims to record a broader data covering all the environmental aspects so that an institution is not only aware of its present performance but also takes into cognizance their future responsive actions in battling climatic changes.


These indicators work on the data collected from the reliable third party sources including academic research institutions, international authorities and other governmental and non-governmental organisations. The facts and figures are obtained after due research and are diligently reviewed by a well established scientific community. 

The data collected is then classified into the 32 heads of the performance indicators and the countries are ranked accordingly. The indicators assess the countries on their performance and rank them on a scale of 0 to 100. The 0 on the scale represents the worst performance while 100 represents the best performance. The scores of different parameters are clubbed together for each country and a total aggregate is hence calculated. The final ranking is done on the basis of this total aggregate score.


The ranking index aims to provide countries with insights on their responsive actions to battle climatic changes and other environmental risks. It sets out international standards enabling the countries to perform better for a better realisation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The countries are hence, motivated to reform their existing policies, enhance their environmental investments and promote better governmental interactions with the stakeholders to facilitate healthier cooperation. The countries are thus in a constant hustle, efforting and striving to get themselves ranked better.  

Outcomes of the 2020 Rankings

The index is back with its 2020 edition to present us with the picture of the ever-increasing environmental challenges. The top 11 places are yet again bagged by the European Countries with Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and France at the top 5 spots. Countries like Australia and Japan have registered an improvement by landing into the top 15 for the first time since 2016. 

Denmark with its comprehensive set of policies emerges out to be an ace environmental performer, supplanting Switzerland, that moves to rank 3. The country leads the world with its exceptional performance in sanitation, public health, air quality, waste management and other climate change policies. Exhibiting excellence in almost every performance indicator, the country sets yet another example by its commitment to cut down the carbon emission levels. The country legally bounds itself to reduce the carbon emission rate by 2030 to 70% of what it was in 1990 thereby, aiming for a better realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Columbia exhibit a sharp improvement in their ranks from 2018. The United States, one of the most industrialised countries can be seen at a relatively lower rank in comparison to the UK (4th), Germany (5th), France (10th) and Italy (22nd). The rank position, however, registers a slight improvement from 27 in 2018 to 24 in 2020. The country reflects a comparatively lower rank owing to its poor waste management system and lack of biodiversity and tree covers.

India shows a notable low with a rank of 168 out of 180 countries owing to its poor health and air quality. China finds its way 48 places ahead of India’s place at a rank of 120. 

Countries like Bangladesh (162), Afghanistan (178), Myanmar (179) and Liberia (180) record for an exceptionally weak performance with Liberia being titled as the worst performer at a rank of 180. Their performance can be directly attributed to the prevalence of a poor governance system in the countries. The lack of governmental efforts to formulate staunch policies securing the vitality of the ecosystem hence becomes a constant necessity for ensuring better environmental performance. 

India’s performance: at a glance

India with the rank of 168 becomes the second-worst performer from the South Asian region after Afghanistan that ranks 178. Other South Asian countries like Bhutan (107), Sri Lanka (109), Pakistan (142) and Nepal (145) have outdone India with higher scores. The country records an exceptionally poor performance in almost all five environmental parameters namely sanitation, drinking water, air quality, heavy metals and waste management.  

The report highlights India’s inefficiency in realising the Sustainable Development Goals. It suggests the need for better governance in India to combat the climatic changes. The country ensures the existence of dialogues and rhetorics over the issue but fails to implement them. Good governance not only brings in well structured public policies but also ensures its effective execution. The governmental structure ensures effective communication with the stakeholders to fix the environmental hazards and work in furtherance of its prevention.


Take away from the EPI 2020 rankings

The Environment Performance Index 2020 with its indicating parameters not only determines the environmental performance of each country but also helps us to arrive at some striking conclusions. 

  • The environmental health parameters help us to ascertain a country’s wealth or GDP per capita. Issues falling under the umbrella of environmental health like proper infrastructures ensuring safe drinking water and sanitation, well-designed waste management and disposal system and an effective public health redressal system require large finances. A country needs to have proper funds and resources to achieve good policy results. Poor performance in the respective parameters is indicative of the economic hardships encountered by a country.
  • With the increasing industrialisation and urbanisation, environmental vitality is subjected to pollution threats. Strong policies combined with good governance is needed to balance sustainability with economic prosperity. Governance factors like a strong commitment towards rule of law, democracy, effective implementation of rules and regulations and a vibrant media ensure the coexistence of environmental and economic development. The EPI data hence provides us with a picture of the kind of governmental system prevailing in the countries. Higher the EPI scores, stronger is the governmental policies of a country.  
  • The data of top performers suggesting overall excellence in parameters like public health, greenhouse emissions, air quality and preservation of natural resources, strongly indicates the countries’ long-standing environmental and health policies. The metrics of the top-ranked country Denmark exhibits its long term plans to realise the targeted goals and commitments. Thus, countries with good policy results lead the entire world with their competence. However, no country can be claimed to be fully sustainable in its efforts. The data indicates a room for improvement in the performance even in the  case of top scorers. 
  • The inherently low scores of the South Asian countries like India and Nigeria immediately calls for some sustainable efforts to broaden the spectrum of highly critical issues namely air and water quality, climate change and biodiversity. The performance of countries like Nepal and Afghanistan in the middle of constant civil and political unrest can be attributed to their weak governance. 


Amidst the ever-increasing climatic concerns, noting, assessing and analysing the environmental performances of the countries worldwide becomes an absolute necessity. The inferences drawn from the data collected indicate the presence of loopholes in the policies of almost every country including those with higher scores. Even the countries with ace results cannot be said to be on a track of sustainability. Hence, a long-distance still remains uncovered on the road of sustainable development goals. 



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