At the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy we are concerned with the state of our planet. We consider ways that national and international governance of our world can be improved to better humanity’s lot - and the lot of the species that coexist (somewhat shakily) with us on this tottering orb.
One of the more longstanding ways we seek to improve global governance is by creating and publishing, in collaboration with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University, our biannual ranking of the environmental performance of the world’s nations, the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). In this Index we consider the movement of each nation towards fulfilling their own environmental goals (reduce pollution; create more nature reserves). Those at the top of our list have set ambitious goals for improving environmental health and quality and, largely, they have achieved them. Those at the bottom struggle to set or achieve environmental targets, though many, like Azerbaijan, are quickly improving (earning them a high ranking on our “Trend EPI,” which considers rates of change in performance across years).
Now that the EPI has been around for nearly a decade, we are often asked what the true impact of this effort has been, or could be.
Is the EPI having an impact on the governance of the world’s resources?
Do decision makers, stakeholders, and activist agitators look to the scores of their country on the EPI and change the course of their actions? Are new policies implemented? Old ones abandoned?
This is an ambitious question to answer. As a first step, we have developed the Indicators in Practice Project, a new endeavor to examine the question of the impact of environmental indices, our own EPI and other similar efforts, from a variety of perspectives.
Through our case studies of government efforts to create and use environmental indicators we have already begun this process. But we are now expanding considerations of environmental performance metrics to include other sectors – businesses and civil society groups in particular. We will publish an academic review of the literature on indicator impacts, and we will reach out to scholars, practitioners, and policy makers around to world to find and present success stories where strong measurement of environmental quality (matched against goals of environmental protection) have led to good results.
Another key goal of this effort will be to contextualize the rankings presented in our EPI. Where possible we hope to dig deeper into our best and worst environmental performers - and ask the question, from a policy and management perspective: what’s driving these scores?
We will revamp the EPI website to include a new Indicators in Practice section, coming soon. And check back often for case studies and discussions of how environmental performance metrics are being used across the world to drive real, measureable changes in the governance of our planet.
Aaron Reuben is a research assistant at the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy, where he studies the policy impacts of environmental health indicators. He holds a Masters of Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Yale environmental journal, SAGE Magazine.