State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

For Better or for Worse: A Decade of Global Environmental Performance Trends Examined

The Pilot Trend EPI was developed as a complement to the 2012 EPI.

The Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which ranks countries on how close they get to reaching two environmental policy objectives (Environmental Health and Ecosystem Vitality), has been produced every two years since 2006 by a team at Yale and CIESIN, in collaboration with World Economic Forum (WEF) and Joint Research Center (JRC), European Commission.  Criteria for the rankings (indicators) are based on international agreements, scientific criteria, or expert judgment. This year for the first time a complementary index, the Pilot Trend Environmental Performance Index (Trend EPI), was produced, showing a country’s improvement or decline over the past decade (2000–2010).

The Trend EPI map above (download PDF) shows that Russia has the greatest decline in environmental performance. This is largely due to worsening air quality for human health, increase in child mortality, depletion of fisheries, and loss of forests. In fact, Russia is also considered a “weaker performer” on the 2012 EPI. But not all countries that scored badly or at the middle of the 2012 EPI also fare badly on the Trend EPI— and that is where the Trend EPI may be especially useful in complementing the data and rankings of the 2012 EPI, in many cases telling a fuller story. For example, Romania is also considered a weaker performer according to the 2012 EPI, but unlike Russia, it has made good progress, so the Trend EPI ranks it among the top improvers. Countries that have been at the high end of the EPI ranking over the last decade may not, according to the Trend EPI, show significant change one way or the other—Norway, for example.

It is worth noting that countries may be grappling with different issues. For example, developed nations may be challenged more by resource and pollution impacts from industrialization (air pollution, for example), whereas developing countries are more typically dealing with issues associated with poverty and lack of basic environmental amenities, such as access to safe drinking water.

A comparison of the 2012 EPI and Trend EPI reveals continuing gaps in environmental governance and management over time. Gains on the Environmental Health objective have been made across all levels of performance measured by the EPI, but the picture for Ecosystem Vitality is much more varied: Some countries are making gains, but many are not. A number of countries are both low-ranked and declining. Finally, many serious challenges to more effective data collection exist. Still, the Trend EPI provides rich new insights into the reality of countries’ environmental performance, which may also help motivate countries which, while ranked low on the scale of performance, are yet making progress.

The 2012 EPI and the Pilot Trend EPI were released on January 27 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. To download the reports and data, go to


This map and commentary is part of the Map of the Month blog series produced by the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN). Development of this month’s blog was led by senior research associate Valentina Mara, in conjunction with senior staff associate Sandra Baptista, geographic information specialist Tricia Chai-Onn, and communications coordinator Elisabeth Sydor.

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12 years ago

I think, Developing countries are more typically dealing with issues associated with poverty and lack of basic environmental amenities, such as access to safe drinking water. It’s true! 2012-future. Thank you.