Rankings, which are both loved and loathed, create interest and provoke action. They are a vehicle to motivate policy change, and, at the very least, they can spark a conversation about the meaning behind a ranking. How a number is derived, its strengths and limitations, opens debate about what we should value and why. Ultimately, however, rankings and their sensitivity to minute methodological changes have inherent subjective characteristics. Placing countries that face disparate economic and environmental challenges in rank order may not be entirely revealing, but users of the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) can pare the index down to smaller peer groups that allow for more relevant comparisons.
The primary value of the EPI is its potential to recommend avenues for change.
The rankings in and of themselves are not as valuable as the metrics and data that underpin them. A single, national aggregate number may be attention-grabbing, but it is the subsequent inquiry and substantive conversation that are more useful. The transparency with which the EPI is constructed and the open nature of the underlying data make the EPI a starting point for countries to take further action. Ideally, these actions would involve:
We hope the 2014 EPI results are a useful conversation starter for countries to begin understanding how they perform on a range of high-priority environmental issues – both among peers and across time. As we always disclaim, the EPI is and remains a work in progress.