Making a case of why the 2010 Environmental Performance Index is a bad ranking for Sierra Leone

By a Concern Citizen

Firstly, Indicators are a relative measure and not an absolute measure or tangible reflection of the state of the environment. In other words, the utility of indicators such as the EPI should not be overstretched or canonised (neither the 2010 nor 2018 should). It is “a” measure not “the” measure of the environmental quality of the countries ranked drawn from a methodology that has its own deficiencies (as many large Macro-level indicators do).

In as much as it conveys a picture of environmental quality, its basis on performance is weak and arguably other leading indices like the Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) provide a more integrated measure of the environmental, social and economic dynamics of national economies (although for now, that includes only 130 countries and counting, up from 80 in 2016, and for which Sierra Leone still does not feature).

Madam Jattou Jallow, Executive Chairperson, environment Protection Agency

Actually, the fact that Sierra Leone does not yet feature in the list GGEI is indicative of the data quality challenges that exist. The point being made is that we should be mindful in the arguments about rankings that it is one picture (or better still perspective) of the environment that is being considered.

Having made this point above, we, however, acknowledge the utility of comparative indices especially of a globalized nature as the EPI. And for that matter, the 2010 rankings for Sierra Leone (163/163) were of themselves a bad light (and reputation for the country). It painted a picture of the amount of work that needed to be done (relative to other countries) and more importantly, by virtue of the EPI’s methodological approach, the imperative need for domestic policy improvements on the environment (as essentially the EPI is nothing more than a method of quantifying and numerically marking the environmental performance of a country’s policies).

However, as far as the utility of rankings and indices go, a significant change in the country’s position on the EPI rankings in a period of 8 years, must be acknowledged as noteworthy. It definitely is not an end in itself and does not presuppose a situation where environmental performance and quality is at its best, but the gains made in 8 years are nonetheless noteworthy and arguably commendable.

Our concern with the “Rebuttal Article” is that this progress is some what discounted and diminished, in favour of a process and methodological based argument. In short, improved rankings in the EPI from 2010 to 2018 for Sierra Leone are commendable (even though more work needs to be done) and are indicative of steps in the right direction. The EPA Sierra Leone recognizes both the progress made and work ahead. A comparative lens of the ranking is fair, so that both 2010 and 2018 can be quoted but done so in the same breath to reflect this progression.

It is important to note that a country’s demonstrated commitment to Environmentally Sustainable is now integrated by the World Bank, assessment to determine the quantum of a countries financial allocation. The writer therefore respectful submits that it is Gunter productive not to highlight the gains made by Sierra Leone (not necessarily the EPA) in environment governance. The arguments advanced rebuttal is therefore akin to asking your teacher to justify grading you A instead of F.

There are a variety of limitations to creating a global index such as the EPI, mostly related to data availability and quality.  The EPI is not a primary empirical exercise per se, and as such, this limitation both in its conceptualization and design must be borne in mind as it would not be methodologically sound to include all countries and the growth in coverage and validity is subject to increasing levels of access and quality of data. This is the reason why its coverage to more countries (ie. the ranking) is growing over time.

It can, therefore, be argued that the availability and access to quality data that allows for the EPI assessments have grown and consequently makes it a sound proposition to use a more recent data set of 2018 than 2010 (as mentioned even the increase in the number of countries covered is a reflection of the improvements in data). This makes a strong case for the 2018 EPI as a better use of a broad-based Indicator.

On this data accessibility and quality argument, the 2018 index appears more favorable over 2010. The relative shift in the weighting of the categories in the 2018 index is also more favorable. ie. 60% on Ecosystem Vitality (covering protection, quality and utility of water resources, agriculture, forests, fisheries, biodiversity and habitats, as well as climate change and energy systems). This shift in weighting consequently shifts the balance of the overall environmental quality index more towards ecosystem vitality. And is indicative of the fact that environmental health actually does depend on the former. Again such a conceptualization is an ‘improvement’ of the 2018 EPI on the 2010 EPI, and therefore must be acknowledged.

Our final point is that the arguments and debates that are solely focused on rankings generate sensationalism that is a distraction, and do not detail the exact, preferred and required policy direction the Government should undertake. Conversely,  the Sierra Leone EPA, Ministry of Environment and associated environmental agencies and departments should work hard, mindful of the international obligations and policy initiatives such as the SDGs, the World bank CPIA, New Urban Agenda, Paris Agreement on Climate Change, etc, and commensurate domestic efforts such as the INDC etc to drive for increased performance. Actually, it is the improvement of domestic policies that drive performance that will lead to “better rankings” on globalised indices such as the EPI. The EPA SL (and the country as a whole is therefore on the right track). This is a commitment that the EPA and its constituent departments are working on.





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