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The Metric

Oct 27, 2015

Sneak Peek: Updates to the 2016 EPI

We are launching the tenth version of the EPI in January 2016. In anticipation of its release, we have given an overview of updates and additions included in the upcoming launch. We welcome participation in our expert review process, which will conclude in early November.

From the moment we launched the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI), our team has been hard at work enhancing methodologies and designing  the 2016 report. The EPI team strives to collect the best available data, and we continuously improve how we measure environmental performance. New research, technological advances, and the explosion of data points are constantly changing the global environmental landscape, challenging the EPI to be dynamic and innovative.

While the EPI’s general framework will remain unchanged, we apply a robust set of criteria to determine updates to the index’s underlying datasets and indicators. We engage environmental experts and scientists from around the world to incorporate the latest scientific knowledge in our analysis. Here we provide an overview of how we are updating the issue areas for 2016. Email us at the address given below if you would like to participate in the expert review process.

A Suite of Environmental Health Risk Measures. In partnership with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, we introduce a set of indicators that assess the environmental health risk exposure to poor air and water quality. A summary Environmental Risk Exposure indicator combines all health risk factors in the Global Burden of Disease, including unsafe drinking water, lack of access to sanitation, and poor air quality, both household and outdoor. This new measure replaces the Child Mortality indicator used in earlier EPIs, which was a proxy for assessing environmental pollution’s impacts on human health. Child mortality is often tied to malnutrition and health care infrastructure - two factors unrelated to environmental pressures. The Environmental Health Objective will also feature components of the Environmental Risk Exposure indicator, including under the unsafe drinking water issue area, which considers both the type of water delivery (i.e., pipe, well) and whether that water is treated or untreated.

Agriculture. Following an extensive year-long review (see Toward the Next Generation of Agricultural Sustainability), the 2016 EPI will introduce new indicators that measure the efficiency and environmental impact of countries’ agricultural practices. In step with the Sustainable Development Goal 2s emphasis on promoting sustainable agriculture, the 2016 EPI agriculture indicators assess the efficiency of fertilizer application and excesses that drive environmental hazards, including soil contamination and water pollution. This change improves on earlier EPIs, which used proxy measures for agricultural subsidies’ environmental pressures and nations’ legislation regarding the use of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) chemicals defined by the Stockholm Convention.

Air Quality. Partnering with Dalhousie University, we will introduce a new air quality indicator for nitrogen dioxide (NO2). NO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion is hazardous to human health because of the compounds propensity to react with other compounds, including Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and produce ozone, fine particulate matter, and smog. Both ground-level ozone and smog contribute to a range of human health effects, including respiratory illnesses and heart and lung disease. While some governments directly monitor NO2, we will feature a satellite-derived measure of ambient average concentrations of NO2, similar to our other indicators that assess fine particulate matter.

Biodiversity and Habitat. A new collaboration with Yale’s Map of Life  has spurred new indicators that assess national protected areas’ effectiveness in conserving species’ habitats. Here is a map that illustrates how these species protection indicators work. The new species protection indicators, paired with our Terrestrial and Marine Protected Areas indicators, will provide a clearer understanding of how effective national efforts are in conserving habitats needed for many species’ survival.  

Fisheries. Incomplete and poor quality data regarding international and nationally-reported fisheries led Sea Around Us to reconstruct and to correct country fish catch datasets. This critical update means that the 2016 EPI will feature a more robust measure of a fish stocks that are overexploited or have collapsed. Sea Around Us is in the midst of updating data that describes the percentage of fish stocks caught using trawling gears. Because these data will not be ready in time for the 2016 EPI release, we will drop the Coastal Shelf Fishing Pressure indicator.

Forests. Using the latest Global Forest Watch data, the updated forestry indicator will assess loss in forest cover. This change responds to critiques from the 2014 Change in Forest Cover indicator, which included assessments of both forest loss and gain from 2000 - 2012. Due to the instability and experimental nature of the gain in forest cover numbers, we are using only the loss numbers for 2016.

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If you would like to review data for any of the above mentioned topics, please email EPI Research Fellow Don Mosteller (donald.mosteller@yale.edu). The external review will extend through early November 2015.