India is severely underperforming on international development indices. The most recent Global Hunger Index ranked the nation 101 out of 116 countries, behind its neighbours Pakistan and Bangladesh. But in early June 2022, we managed to hit rock bottom. On the 2022 Yale University Environmental Performance Index (EPI), in an assessment of 180 countries, India ranked dead last.

The government’s response to bad news has largely been to shoot the messenger, but the EPI has several features that make it hard to ignore. First, the ranking is produced by one of the world’s best universities. Second, a country’s score is not mostly determined by subjective assessments of policy and governance but rather by an extraordinarily wide range of environmental outcomes, on most of which India rates very poorly (see Table 1). Third, the data come largely from objective scientific sources – satellite measures of deforestation or air pollution, for instance – rather than small surveys or expert assessments.