Governing by numbers

China, Viet Nam, and Malaysia’s adaptation of the Environmental Performance Index

Authored by: Angel Hsu

Routledge Handbook of Sustainability Indicators

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138674769
eBook ISBN: 9781315561103
Adobe ISBN:


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The Environmental Performance Index (EPI) is a biennial global ranking of countries’ efforts to protect human environmental health and manage natural resources and ecosystems. Since researchers at Yale and Columbia Universities created it more than a decade ago, the EPI has inspired several subnational adaptations of composite environmental indices in Asia. This article examines and compares the subnational EPIs in China, Malaysia, and Viet Nam. Focusing on the motivations, policy rationale, and practical challenges involved in each case, I discuss underlying trends and themes that explain why these countries adopted the global EPI framework to measure and track subnational environmental implementation. These case studies exemplify a growing trend that sees rapidly developing countries that employ top-down environmental policymaking and execution adopting quantitative tools to assess results at the local levels. These countries face common challenges that many other nations would likely encounter when adopting indicators or composite indices for environmental management, including issues of poor data availability and quality, institutional fragmentation, and organizational constraints. Describing the pathways each of these Asian countries took to adapt their subnational EPIs, this chapter distills lessons for other countries that seek to develop indicator systems for environmental management.

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