How Singapore jumped 50 places to become 4th in Environment Performance Index

The 28 Jan 2014 Straits Times article “Singapore leaps to fourth place in environment index” reported Singapore leaping 50 places to become world number 4 in the 2014 Environmental Performance Index (EPI).

The following table compares Singapore’s EPI scores in 2014 and 2012.

Singapore 2014 EPI W × S Singapore 2012 EPI W × S
Child Mortality 13.3 Child mortality 15
Household Air Quality 4.2 Indoor air pollution 3.8
Air Pollution – Average Exposure to PM2.5 4.4 Particulate matter (excluded)
Air Pollution – PM2.5 Exceedance 4.4
Access to Drinking Water 6.7 Access to drinking water 3.8
Access to Sanitation 6.7 Access to sanitation 3.8
Sulfur dioxide emissions per capita 0.6
Sulfur dioxide emissions per GDP 2.1
Wastewater Treatment 14.9 Change in water quality 1.3
Terrestrial Protected Areas (National Biome Weights) 1.1 Biome protection 2.5
Terrestrial Protected Areas (Global Biome Weights) 1.1
Marine Protected Areas 3.1 Marine protection* 3.5
Critical Habitat Protection (excluded) Critical habitat protection (excluded)
Agricultural Subsidies (excluded) Agricultural subsidies 3.9
Pesticide Regulation 1.4 Pesticide regulation 1.9
Growing stock change (excluded)
Forest loss 0.7
Change in Forest Cover (excluded) Forest cover change 1.9
Fish Stocks 0 Fishing stocks overexploited 1.1
Coastal Shelf Fishing Pressure 0 Coastal shelf fishing pressure 0
Trend in Carbon Intensity 7.1 CO2 per capita 1.7
Change of Trend in Carbon Intensity 0 CO2 per GDP 3
Trend in CO2 Emissions per KWH 4.1 CO2 emissions per electricity generation 0.2
Renewable electricity 0
Total 81.80% Total 56.40%

W × S = weightage × score

Singapore’s EPI score increased significantly from 56.4% in 2012 to 81.8% in 2014 because:

PM2.5

• The particulate matter indicator, which was excluded from Singapore’s 2012 EPI score has been expanded in 2014 into two PM2.5 indicators. Singapore scored full marks for both PM2.5 indicators, yielding an extra 8.8% points for us.

Below is a comparison of the new PM2.5 indicator scores between Singapore and Switzerland:

Country Air Pollution – Average Exposure to PM2.5 Air Pollution – Average PM2.5 Exceedance
Singapore 100 100
Switzerland 78.2 56.5

The EPI deems Singapore air to be 100% pristine while that of Switzerland’s is barely passable only. If EPI results are to be believed, you are not going to get fresh air when you go to Switzerland. Instead, the world’s freshest air can be found right here in Singapore.

Singaporeans’ outrage over haze due to Sumatran forest fires, massive purchase of face masks and air purifiers were all just for show because according to EPI, Singapore is flawless as far as PM2.5 is concerned.

Waste water treatment

• The 2012 “Change in water quality” indicator has been changed to “waste water treatment” in 2014 yielding a massive 13.6% increase in points for Singapore.

• As an example, Singapore’s waste water treatment is deemed almost perfect compared to Norway’s.

Country Wastewater Treatment
Singapore 99.7
Norway 77.1

However, according to Norwegian Environment Agency:

“Today, practically all waste water is treated before being discharged into a recipient. The total annual costs incurred by the municipalities for waste water treatment are now about NOK 4 billion.”
http://www.environment.no/Topics/Marine-areas/Eutrophication/Municipal-waste-water/

So Norway should also be scoring close to 100% yet EPI deems it to be deserving of 77.1% only. Perhaps EPI judges waste water treatment according to its suitability for human consumption? That benchmark would have been unfair because there is no need for a country like Norway with plentiful supply of fresh water to treat waste water to a level suitable for human consumption. Because of high energy requirements, it would be environmentally unfriendly for Norway to treat waste water to human consumption level when fresh supplies abound. A nation’s efforts to treat waste water should be judged based on the level of safety with which the waste water can be discharged into the environment. Anything beyond should be discounted as unnecessary for waste water treatment.

CO2

• Two of the three CO2 categories in 2012 have been renamed in 2014 and Singapore ended up with another 6.3% increase in points.

• Instead of tracking the present CO2 emission levels, the new CO2 indicators track changes in CO2 emission over the past 10 years or the past, past 10 years. This is double standard. Why not use trending for all the other indicators? Why only use it for CO2?

• It is unfair comparing CO2 per GDP, it is fairer comparing CO2 per capita. A heavily pollutive industrial nation can get away with high CO2 emissions with high GDP.

Others

• The weightage for access to drinking water and sanitation were doubled yielding another 6.7% in points without change in performance.

• The 2012 sulphur dioxide emissions have been excluded in 2014 thus eliminating our low scores in this area.

Conclusion

• Singapore’s EPI performance shot up from 56.4% in 2012 to 81.8% in 2014 mainly because indicators that it fared poorly in had been taken out while indicators it excelled in were expanded and their weightages increased significantly.

• The new PM2.5 indicator gives the ridiculous result that Singapore air is pristine while Swiss air is barely passable.

• The new waste water indicator unfairly requires nations to treat waste water to a level suitable for drinking. This is energy intensive and thus environmentally unfriendly. The consequence of high energy consumption for excessive treatment of waste water may not show up in the CO2 indicator as long as the treated water contributes to an even higher level of GDP.

• Basing CO2 performance on per GDP basis is wrong because it encourages nations to get around high CO2 output with high GDP instead of reducing high CO2 output.

• Child mortality shouldn’t be used as an indicator because it can be more of a function of healthcare standards rather than environment standards.

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