The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) ranked Maldives in the 127th position, out of the 180 countries that were assessed based on environmental health and vitality of ecosystems.
Judged using 32 performance indicators across 1 issue categories, European countries placed in the top ten percentile, with Denmark securing the place of best ‘eco’ performance.
In 2020, Maldives recorded a 10 year change in its ranking, falling by a total of 6.7 points.
The country, renown worldwide for its sustainable fishing practices, made an impressive but unsurprising performance in the category by ranking number 1 – resulting from having historically steered clear of pelagic trawling, across the archipelago.
Further, the most immediate issue needed to address was identified to be ‘Biodiversity and Habitat’ preservation – in which the island nation is ranked last, at 180.
Per EPI data, the country has not managed to retain natural ecosystems and protect the full range of biodiversity within its borders, to a satisfactory level.
The highest performing in this category is Botswana, followed by Zambia and Poland, whereas certain other Small Developing Island States (SIDS) are also ranked low, like Barbados and Micronesia, presumably due to geographic vulnerability. However, they too rank above Maldives, a difference that experts have reasoned may be due to a lack of exacerbating existing issues.
Maldives also ranked 163 in the category of pollution emissions, and 167 in the measure of agricultural drivers of environmental damage, which is a clear disparity to the country’s 2010 pledge to become carbon neutral by 2020.
At the time, audited carbon emissions released ahead of the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) estimated that Maldives emitted 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, the same estimated amount of carbon emitted by flights carrying 650,000 tourists to the country each year.
Neighbouring country India fared poorly as well, ranking well behind the rest of South Asia (with the exception of Afghanistan) and scoring particularly low in the categories of air quality, sanitation, drinking water and waste management.
This stands in contrast to India’s increased sustainability rhetoric, indicating that efforts did not match state-pledges.
Maldives’ other key partner in development, China, on the other side of the country’s dated tug of war with India, ranked better than both at the 120th place. China performed lowest in the markers of air quality (specifically with regard to ozone exposure) and ecosystem vitality.
Compared to other SIDS, Maldives shows room for improvement as countries like Seychelles, Mauritius Grenada, Singapore, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Bahamas, Kiribati all performed considerably better, although some nations such as Fiji, Guyana, Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands did rank lower as well.
Across the scientific community, observers have boiled down the discerning factor between nations on the EPIs’ 2020 scorecard as being ‘good governance’, that is, when leaders match policy-making and actions to that which they’ve pledged on the international stage, prioritising sustainability and environmental health policy-making.
On February 13, the Maldivian parliament passed a resolution to declare a climate emergency in a first-of-its-kind move for Maldivian history. This is one of the country’s many exuberant gestures, and statements delivered with a flourish, asserting its position as a global climate advocate.
Nevertheless, while the current administration maintains its pledge to stand at the forefront of tackling climate change and transition towards decentralized development, Maldives continues to invest in centralized and environmentally destructive projects.
Despite possessing knowledge of projects that may cause irreversible damage to a fragile environment, whilst the country faces negative impacts of global change, as well as the ability to assess economic impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, “[The parliament] is doing nothing to stop the major debt-funded projects continuing across the country at great speed”, local advocacy collective ‘Save Maldives’ recently said.
According to index authors, “The 2020 Environmental Performance Index (EPI) provides a data-driven summary of the state of sustainability around the world”, adding that “the data comes from trusted third-party sources like international governing bodies, nongovernmental organizations, and academic research centres”.
Referring to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the EPI’s authors called the crisis a reminder of the “profound interdependence of all nations and the importance of investing in resilience”.
Touted as a policy tool in support of efforts to meet UN Sustainable Development Goals, EPI indicators help decision makers to spot problems, set targets, track trends, understand outcomes, and identify best policy practices – for the sweeping purpose of ushering in a more sustainable society, for the future.
The Environmental Performance Index is a joint project of the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. The EPI is produced in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF).
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