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Issue Profile

Climate and Energy

Climate and Energy assesses mitigation actions and access to energy relative to a country’s level of economic development. Whereas other indicator scores reflect the degree to which a country meets a target, there are no globally agreed-upon targets for CO2 reduction. Therefore, the EPI Climate and Energy indicators should not be interpreted as proximity-to-target, but rather a relative position globally. Instead, these indicators measure countries’ ability to reduce the intensity of carbon emissions over time.

What it measures: Whereas other indicator scores reflect the degree to which a country meets a target, there are no globally agreed-upon targets for COreduction. Therefore, the EPI Climate and Energy indicators should not be interpreted as proximity-to-target, but rather a relative position globally. Instead, these indicators measure countries’ ability to reduce the intensity of carbon emissions over time. They are sensitive to countries’ differing policy obligations and take into consideration both economic and industrial development. Scores for three of the indicators include weightings tied to Gross National Income (GNI) per capita, as determined by the World Bank’s country classifications.

  • For wealthy countries (GNI per capita greater than US$12,616), scores are primarily comprised of an indicator measuring the Trend in Carbon Intensity, as the burden of climate mitigation lies firmly with them.
  • For middle-income countries (GNP per capita between US$1,036 and US$12,615),the primary measure is the rate at which their carbon intensity growth has slowed. These countries must develop while gradually moving toward more sustainable energy sectors.
  • Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are not scored on emissions indicators, since they have historically contributed less significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. Emissions are not as important as transitioning people to more sustainable forms of energy. Therefore, no score is given to LDCs for Climate and Energy. Instead, an indicator of Access to Electricity is presented but not calculated in the EPI score.

A third indicator in this category is the Trend in CO2 Emissions per kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity produced, determined for most countries as a trend from 2000 to 2010. For those countries that already perform at the lowest levels of carbon intensity per kWh of electricity produced, a score is calculated as an absolute level of CO2 emissions per kWh of electricity and heat produced, divided by the total amount of electricity and heat production.

Why we include it: Climate change is among the direst environmental challenges. Still, too little progress has been made to mitigate its effects, aid vulnerable populations to adapt, account for loss and damage already experienced, or to move the policy conversation toward consensus on the problem’s scope, origins, or potential solutions. These indicators are intended to rank progress in reducing the carbon intensity of emissions over roughly the last decade (2000 to 2010).

Where the data come from: Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions data come from the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT) 2.0 database provided by the World Resources Institute. Data for the Access to Electricity indicator are from the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative, a joint effort by the World Bank and the International Energy Agency (IEA). The Trend in CO2 Emissions per kWh of electricity generation indicator is developed from data provided by the IEA.

What the targets are: Because there are no globally agreed-upon targets for COreduction, the data are used to show relative performance for these indicators. For more information, click here

Description: In 2007 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called climate change “the defining issue of our era. Since then global greenhouse gas emissions have increased and accelerated. Our understanding of the underlying science of climate change has improved vastly, but the data and indicators we used to measure and track policy response to it has lagged. Most of the climate data are based on levels of primary CO2 emissions, due to the near linear relationship between carbon dioxide and global temperature rise. However, although emissions-based indicators may be a proxy for climate change performance, they are also a proxy for level of economic development. Countries such as Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo may not emit much in comparison to the United States, but that has little to do with outright climate policy than economic underdevelopment.

The 2014 EPI takes a new approach to climate and energy. In past iterations of the EPI, the primary goal was to develop indicators that, when statistically transformed and normalized, allowed for absolute comparability among countries. The 2014 EPI acknowledges that generally applying the same targets to every country provides little insight into policy. We agree with international climate frameworks like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that emphasize the significant differences between developed and developing countries. For the first time, the EPI scores countries using emissions-based measures that account for differences in economic development.

In doing so, the 2014 EPI aims to provide a blueprint for climate and energy indicators that do not hold countries with different needs and capacities to a monolithic set of metrics. It introduces a tiered set of expectations. Wealthier nations are gauged according to reduced emissions per unit Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (carbon intensity) from 2000 to 2010. Countries within this tier include Annex I parties to the UNFCCC who have taken on emission reduction commitments, a group that includes the European Union, as well as other wealthy countries who have pledged mitigation actions through the Copenhagen Accord, including the United States, Japan, and Canada. The United States, for example, has committed to reduce emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by the year 2020. This indicator is an effort to measure the progress of that commitment, which is by no means legally binding or guaranteed.

→ Which countries are the world's worst climate polluters? Read more here.

Denmark, whose government has framed a commitment to reduce emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2020, is performing particularly well in this category. Its goal is to phase out fossil fuels by 2050. Yet, like its northern European neighbors, Denmark has already made impressive cuts in both household and industrial carbon emissions, largely through efficiency and renewables initiatives. The country has clearly demonstrated a policy commitment to substantially reduce carbon emissions.

Middle-income countries whose economies are still developing are expected to slow the rate at which the carbon intensity of their economy increases. These countries, including China, India, and Brazil, are judged against a benchmark of a slowed rate of carbon intensity increase. Although ideally they will begin to move toward absolute emission reductions (as in the case of wealthier countries), the tension between industrial growth and populations still mired in poverty makes it necessary for these countries to continue to grow their economies. The expectation is that they do this as sustainably as possible. For now, the EPI rewards countries that are doing their best to curb the rate of growth in emissions.

China, for example, is the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and one of the top energy-consuming countries. It tends to receive heavy criticism for these distinctions. Still, GDP per person in China is very low, with almost 400 million people living on less than US$2 a day. Despite high economic expansion averaging greater than 10 percent annual growth in GDP, China reported a 20-percent decrease in carbon intensity between 2005 and 2010. At the 2009 UN Copenhagen Climate Summit, China committed to reduce carbon intensity an additional 40 to 45 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. Trends in carbon intensity reduction from the past decade demonstrate China’s policy achievements. 

As low as China’s GDP may be, a whole tier of countries ranked in the EPI is even poorer, with a GNI per capita less than US$1,035. These LDCs have, in past iterations of the EPI, dominated the rankings, largely due to low economic development. But because of the less significant contribution of LDCs to overall climate emissions, the 2014 EPI does not score these countries on the Climate and Energy category. Their priority should be building their economies, albeit as sustainably as possible, while developing robust energy infrastructures that ensure access to cleaner forms of energy for their people. In terms of climate change, these countries’ primary concerns are vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.

Many countries with high proportions of populations lacking access to electricity currently rely on higher-polluting, less sustainable forms of fuel, including biomass like animal dung, wood, and charcoal. Switching to less-polluting, non-solid fuels has both climate impacts and household air pollution impacts (see Issue profile: Air Quality). Furthermore, increasing access to electricity provides a range of social and economic benefits for citizens. The 2014 EPI website provides an indicator of Access to Electricity for LDCs, but it does not include the measure when calculating the aggregated score for these countries. 

Recognizing these disparate policy goals, the 2014 EPI treats national levels of development as a central determinant of how countries’ performance on the Climate and Energy trend indicators are weighted. Instead of scoring countries by their absolute carbon intensity, trends in carbon intensity between 2000 and 2010 are calculated, with weightings between two different indicators— Trend in Carbon Intensity and Change in Trend of Carbon Intensity— gradually blended for countries at ratios based on their GNI per capita. For the high-income group — those countries with a GNI per capita above US$12,616 – the Trend in Carbon Intensity indicator is weighted more heavily. For middle-income countries— those with a GNI per capita between US$1,035 and US$12,640 — the Change in Trend of Carbon Intensity is weighted higher. Essentially, this indicator is a measure of how much countries have slowed their rate of growth in carbon intensity in the recent past. Those that have slowed their rates of emissions growth are scored better than countries that remain steady or are increasing emissions more rapidly than at earlier times.

→ The exact weighting ratios for these climate indicators for each country can be downloaded here.

The third indicator in the Climate category, Trend in CO2 Emissions per kWh, measures the carbon intensity of countries’ electricity and heat generation sector. While sector-based indicators benchmarked against ambitious carbon emission targets would be ideal, global data on all sectors are not available. The one exception is the power sector, which is responsible for well over half of all global emissions. This indicator therefore assesses the trend in carbon intensity of electricity and heat production from 2000 to 2010. Select countries do not have much room to improve in this category, as they are already performing extremely well. For them, the indicator simply represents the amount of CO2 emissions per unit of electricity and heat produced.

Iceland is among this very small group of exceptions. Aside from shipping and transportation, all of the country’s energy comes from renewable sources, mostly geothermal and hydropower. Although Iceland is endowed with a low population and an optimal mix of resources to achieve that distinction, it would be unwise to think its success is unrelated to policy. Iceland manages its power sector so well that it is able to export energy and still provide clean, reliable electricity to its citizens. A different scenario exists in one of the other exceptions. In Paraguay a massive hydropower system provides the power sector with the bulk—almost 80 percent— of its energy. However, power-outages are frequent, reliability is low, and access to the abundant clean energy is not widespread. In fact, the majority of the electricity produced is exported to Brazil, at bargain-basement prices.

Both countries have tremendous opportunities for innovation: Iceland is on its way to putting its geothermal energy to use for the recycling of CO2 into usable, exportable fuels. And Paraguay, which imports all of its fossil fuels, is positioned to use its abundant hydropower to foster a robust domestic renewables fuels industry. However the fact that these countries are ranked highly in this important category is no guarantee that they will continue to perform at the same level as conditions change. As is true with all of the EPI’s issue categories, even a cursory investigation reinforces the fact that individual indicators only tell a fragment of the story.

These case studies are examples of countries that blend a strategy of natural resources endowments and policy to keep emissions low. When there is less room to improve because of already high performance, incremental performance is even more challenging. Judging small improvements can seem like a penalty. Sadly, such high performance is well outside the norm. For the vast majority of nations, the Trend in CO2 Emissions per kWh indicator is based on the trend in reduction of carbon intensity in the electricity sector. 

Ideally, future measures of climate change and energy performance will be tied more directly to policy actions toward both mitigation of and adaptation to climate effects. For now, the data for such a global-scale venture does not exist (see Box: Evaluating Policy Performance – The Climate Change Performance Index). Until it does, the EPI must make do with existing data, offering imperfect measures at best.

Data Explorer

The EPI Data Explorer allows users to dynamically investigate global data: Compare environmental performance with GDP, population, land area, or other variables; create a chart that highlights all 178 ranked countries, only those in a specific region, or a custom-defined group. There's a lot more to the data than rankings, so dive in.


The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is constructed through the calculation and aggregation of 20 indicators reflecting national-level environmental data. These indicators are combined into nine issue categories, each of which fit under one of two overarching objectives. Click on "Learn More" to explore the complete methods.