Sun, Feb 20, 2005 - Page 17 News List

Environmental index puts Taiwan at bottom of the heap

Despite imperfect data used in the analysis, experts agree that Taiwan ranks embarrassingly low

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Doing so for Taiwan can provide a slight measure of succor.

The country scores extremely low in management of land and water resources, reduction of air pollution and stress on water resources, as well as in reduction of human vulnerability to natural disasters.

While more optimistically, Taiwan's scores are comparable with countries containing similar population densities for its environmental governance, reduction of population stress, and in science and technology capacity.

These are all indicators that the country is on the right footing to move up in the rankings, according to Esty.

"With a concerted effort and investment of resources, Taiwan can improve," he said, citing the example of South Korea, which in the first ESI released in 2002, was prompted into urgent action to improve on its 8th-from-the-bottom ranking. South Korea is ranked 122 in the current ESI.

Other analyses, however, show a sobering account of Taiwan's performance in environmental protection. When graphed to show its effectiveness in environmental sustainability relative to GDP per capita, Taiwan stands isolated in a very unfavorable zone on the chart, indicating that while national wealth can be a boost to environmental sustainability, Taiwan proves that it does not guarantee it. Taiwan's position is even lower when charted relative to its economic growth competitiveness, which the World Economic Forum last year placed at fourth globally.

Only one way to go

Standing at the bottom of the rankings and 12 spots behind China, at 133, upward is the only way to move for Taiwan. Yet doubts persist that the country's position in the current ESI is at all representative of the country's actual status.

The ESI research team collects data from a wide variety of sources, including local governments, the World Bank, the World Monetary Fund and the United Nations Environment Programme. The report additionally says it attempts to fill data gaps from whatever sources are available.

Taiwan's non-participation in a number of international bodies left the research team without data for Taiwan in nine of the survey's 76 variables and imputed values for seven more.

Professor Yeh Shin-cheng (葉欣誠) of Kaohsiung Normal University, who led Taiwan's ESI contact group, said the imputations made by the research team were highly subjective and that the research group did not always take into account information that he provided. He pointed to his provision of data on Taiwan's nutritional health standards, which are very high, but which were not used in the final calculation. The ESI will reject data that it is not able to readily confirm.

The exclusion of certain variables, he said, also weighted the index heavily against Taiwan.

"All indexes are inherently subjective, so it's wise to look at who is collating the data. Based on the data used, the ESI's credibility with regard to Taiwan is questionable," Yeh said.

Esty agreed that the data for Taiwan would need to undergo a "thorough scrub" for the next survey and offered that more perfect data would likely have ranked the country at about 120, in other words alongside South Korea. But he refuted the notion that the imputations or missing variables slanted Taiwan's score in any significant manner.

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