The ESI Brings About Reform for Environmental Policy

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Environmental Sustainability Index statistics.
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The Environmental Sustainability Index report.

The Environmental Sustainability Index brings reform for environmental policy. 

Critics of industrial pollution have long been held at bay
with the argument that what’s good for the environment is
bad for business. Enter the Environmental Sustainability
Index (ESI), a statistical tool that just may end the
debate over the negative effects of environmental standards
on economic growth and bring reform for environmental policy. Developed by the Yale Center for
Environmental Law and Policy (YCELP) and the Columbia
University Center for International Earth Science
Information Network (CIESIN), the ESI promises to
significantly influence environmental public policy
worldwide.

“There are some people,” says CIESIN project team leader
Marc Levy, “who would argue that you either get rich or get
clean. With the index, we’ve ruled this out. It’s just not
true that as the environment improves the economy suffers.”
Indeed, the index reveals that countries with strict
environmental protections often have high economic growth,
although Levy points out that without further research,
“correlation does not prove causation.”

The ESI compares 56 countries around the world in terms of
five basic components: the status of the current ecosystem;
the stresses on that system; the effects of changes in the
ecosystem on people and society; the political framework in
a country that enables it to respond to environmental
challenges; and the degree to which a country cooperates
with other countries to reduce environmental impact. These
components are then broken down into 64 specific variables
— such as percentage of energy drawn from alternative power
sources and number of threatened species — in order to
determine a country’s overall ESI value.

Proponents of the ESI would like to see it serve as an
annual benchmark for measuring trends. “Currently
environmental policy initiatives aren’t grounded in data
and facts,” says Levy, “and we suffer as a consequence.
People want to put their efforts where it matters most, but
until now it’s been just guesswork.”

By eliminating much of the uncertainty in policy-making, the
report may both highlight the need and clear the way for
real reform, while underscoring the fact that a stable
economy requires the careful management of all of a
country’s resources, not least of all the environment.

— Peter Carter