Category: Background


EVI-Logo-NewA vulnerability index for the natural environment, the basis of all human welfare, has been developed by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and their partners. The index was developed through consultation and collaboration with countries, institutions and experts across the globe. This index is designed to be used with economic and social vulnerability indices to provide insights into the processes that can negatively influence the sustainable development of countries.

The reason for using indices for this purpose is to provide a rapid and standardised method for characterising vulnerability in an overall sense, and identifying issues that may need to be addressed within each of the three pillars of sustainability, namely environmental, economic and social aspects of a country’s development. Development is often achieved through trade-offs between these pillars. Therefore, in order to promote sustainability, it has become increasingly important to be able to measure how vulnerable each aspect is to damage and to identify ways of building resilience. With this information to hand, the outcome for countries could be optimised for their unique situations and development goals.

templatemo_image_05Why focus on vulnerability?

The vulnerability of our environmental, social and economic systems is made up of more than just the risk of disasters and good or bad management. It is not just about climate change, or globalisation, or trade agreements. It must also include an understanding of how well any system (environmental, social and economic) can cope with any hazards that may come its way and that might harm it. It would be impossible to work towards good quality of life and growth for countries under a sustainable development model if no account were made of the damage that can occur from internal and outside influences.

For development to be sustainable, we clearly need to learn to manage our vulnerabilities. We need to be able to understand and/or manage hazards, natural resilience and acquired resilience. This understanding for the first time opens up opportunities for improving our overall vulnerability because it forces us to examine the problem from all angles, instead of just focusing on the risk of disasters. Vulnerability management is emerging as a critical part of any sustainable development strategy.

The interesting thing about vulnerability is that it can be examined at different levels for different issues. That is, it can be used to look at a single issue, or to assess a complex entity such as a country.

Vulnerability Inherent characteristics of a country + Forces of nature + Human use + Climate change

The overall vulnerability of a country is the result of a large number of interacting forces. Some of these can be influenced by our policies and actions. Others, like the forces of nature, cannot be directly changed by our choices. Where we have no power to change a factor, such as the weather or volcanoes, we can still improve our overall position by increasing resilience or reducing vulnerability
in seemingly-unrelated aspects of our environment. In the indicator descriptions that follow, we highlight some of the direct and indirect approaches that could be used to respond to vulnerability issues.

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forestThe first conceptual Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) appropriate for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) was presented by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) on 4 February 1999. This work was further developed at an Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) Think Tank, 7 – 10 September 1999 in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. Expanding the EVI to other SIDS was facilitated by a meeting of experts convened in Malta 29 November – 3 December 1999 by SOPAC and the Foundation for International Studies (of the University of Malta’s Islands and Small States Institute) with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme.

In a second phase, the EVI was tested in 5 countries, and a workshop to expand application of the EVI to a representative set of countries from around the world was hosted by UNEP in Geneva, Switzerland, on 27 – 29 August 2001. Further work on the EVI resulted in the presentation of the first functional results with the Demonstration EVI.

Designed for all countries

globeWork then continued on refining the index and assembling the necessary data sets, leading to the launching of a preliminary EVI based on 50 indicators at the 12th UN Commission on Sustainable Development in New York on 15 April 2004 and a second EVI Think Tank in Suva, Fiji, 4 – 6 October 2004, before the final presentation at the Mauritius International Meeting on 12 January 2005. More than 300 experts contributed to the development of the EVI. While further refinements and improvements will always be necessary, the index is now ready for application at the country level. It is designed for use in all countries, not just small island states.

Support for the EVI

new zealandnorwayirelanditalyUNEP2

  • DONORS: New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, Italy and United Nations Environment Program
  • ORGANISATIONS: UNEP, UNEP GRID Arendal, UNEP Islands Web, Islands & Small States Institute at the Foundation for International Studies (University of Malta), International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Council of Regional Organisations in the Pacific (CROP)
  • SOPAC MEMBER COUNTRIES: Australia, Cook Is., Fiji, French Polynesia, FSM, Guam, Kiribati, Marshall Is., Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Is., Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.
  • SOME of our COLLABORATING COUNTRIES: Bangladesh, Barbados, Botswana, Costa Rica, Greece, Jamaica, Kenya, Kyrgyz Republic, Malta, Mauritius, Nepal, Philippines, St Lucia, Singapore, Thailand, Trinidad & Tobago.
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Cover-Think-Tank-IIThe Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) is an indicators-based method which has been developed in partnership by SOPAC, UNEP, Ireland, Italy, New Zealand, and Norway in collaboration with the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (AOSIS), Small Island Developing States (SIDS) institutions and experts. The EVI was developed in response to a call made in the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of  Small Island Developing States to prepare a composite vulnerability index that incorporated both economic and ecological concerns. The EVI concentrates on measuring ecological vulnerability and seeks to support other vulnerability indices initiatives, including the economic vulnerability index and a soon-to-be developed social vulnerability index, as part of the global move towards determining how development could be achieved sustainably.

The EVI model can be used to quantify the vulnerability of the natural environment to damage from natural and anthropogenic hazards at national scales. It is the first global attempt to develop such an ecological index. The EVI will support decision-makers by providing a pragmatic approach that will enable them to ‘see’ the problem, as well as identify actions that could be taken to manage vulnerability and protect or build environmental resilience of a country.

Purpose of the Meeting

The purpose of the meeting was to assemble a small group of internationally recognised scientists to examine the EVI and its indicators in order to obtain critique on its design and function and seek recommendations for refinements to improve the EVI and its robustness. The Think Tank was run between the dates of 4 – 6 October 2004 at the SOPAC Secretariat, Suva, Fiji. The overall aims of the Think Tank were to:

  1. Obtain peer-review and commentary from experts
  2. Obtain constructive technical inputs to improve the EVI to make it acceptable and/or operational in the international community
  3. Provide expert reference towards the setting and justification of sustainable thresholds of EVI indicators
  4. Outline an action plan for future international research and work towards sustainable thresholds and indicators that will help in steering the international community towards sustainability

Download the report from our downloads page

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A vulnerability index for the natural environment, the basis of all human welfare, has been developed by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and their partners. The index was developed through consultation and collaboration with countries, institutions and experts across the globe. This index is designed to be used with economic and social vulnerability indices to provide insights into the processes that can negatively influence the sustainable development of countries.

The reason for using indices for this purpose is to provide a rapid and standardised method for characterising vulnerability in an overall sense, and identifying issues that may need to be addressed within each of the three pillars of sustainability, namely environmental, economic and social aspects of a country’s development. Development is often achieved through trade-offs between these pillars. Therefore, in order to promote sustainability, it has become increasingly important to be able to measure how vulnerable each aspect is to damage and to identify ways of building resilience. With this information to hand, the outcome for countries could be optimised for their unique situations and development goals.

BPoA Barbados Programme of Action

The Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA), Section C5 Vulnerability Index (paragraphs 113 and 114) called for the development of vulnerability indices and other indicators that reflect the status of Small Island Developing States (SIDs) and integrate ecological fragility and economic vulnerability. An emphasis was placed on how such an index and other measures might be used as quantitative indicators of fragility.

  1. Developed by SOPAC, UNEP and partners
  2. 32 collaborating countries
  3. Global relevance (not just SIDs)
  4. Designed to be used with economic and social vulnerability indices to provide insights into the processes that can negatively influence the sustainable development of countries

 

 

 

The natural environment is unequivocally the life support system for all human endeavours. Far from being a luxury available only to those countries that can ‘afford’ it, successful environmental management will increasingly become the basis for the success or failure of the economies and social systems. Environmental management now occurs within countries in response to individual development projects and at a global scale through international agreements. The approaches being used are largely concerned with pressure being applied to the environment by humans, or the state of the environment. They concentrate on improving practices through the development of guidelines for action, the use of protection, or by limiting exploitation, degradation and pollution. These approaches are critical to our efforts at environmental management, but are insufficient on their own to ensure a sustainable future. They do not always focus on optimisation or the cumulative outcome of our many actions and management approaches over different scales of time or space. Even countries with a good current state of their environment can be highly vulnerable to future damage.

The Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI) is among the first of tools now being developed to focus environmental management at the same scales that environmentally significant decisions are made, and focus them on planned outcomes. The scale of entire countries is appropriate because it is the one at which major decisions affecting the environment in terms of policies, economics and social and cultural behaviours are made. If environmental conditions are monitored at the same time as those concerning human systems, there is better opportunity for feedback between them. Without exception, the environment is the life-support system for all human systems and therefore  an integral part of the developmental success of countries.

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Healthy, productive and protective environments, social systems and economies are the basis of sustainable development and human welfare. The environment is the source of all our raw materials and absorbs the pollution from our activities. In turn, whilst going about our daily business (social and economic) we use the environment and convert its resources and natural services into those that directly support us. The problem is that all of these systems can be damaged, overloaded, or prevented from meeting our needs. By our own choices we can to a large extent determine our own quality of life, the condition of our lands and opportunities for future generations. Vulnerability is a new way of looking at an age-old problem. Instead of focusing just on what has been going wrong in the past and the effects of hazards, vulnerability gives us the opportunity to focus on getting things right for the future. As a  future-focused approach, vulnerability is a way of using strengths and strategically improving weaknesses. Vulnerability refers to the tendency of something to be damaged. The opposite of this is resilience, or the ability to resist and/or recover from damage. When we talk about vulnerability, we are automatically also talking about resilience because the two are opposite sides of a single coin. That is, something is vulnerable to the extent that it is not resilient, and visa versa. The idea of vulnerability/resilience applies equally well to physical entities (people, ecosystems, coastlines) and to abstract concepts (social systems, economic systems, countries). The factors that cause the damage are known as hazards, each of which will be associated with some level of risk, or likelihood of occurring.

Why focus on Vulnerability?

The vulnerability of our environmental, social and economic systems is made up of more than just the risk of disasters and good or bad management. It is not just about climate change, or globalisation, or trade agreements. It must also include an understanding of how well any system (environmental, social and economic) can cope with any hazards that may come its way and that might harm it. It would be impossible to work towards good quality of life and growth for countries under a sustainable development model if no account were made of the damage that can occur from internal and outside influences.
For development to be sustainable, we clearly need to learn to manage our vulnerabilities. We need to be able to understand and/or manage hazards, natural resilience and acquired resilience. This understanding for the first time opens up opportunities for improving our overall vulnerability because it forces us to examine the problem from all angles, instead of just focusing on the risk of disasters. Vulnerability management is emerging as a critical part of any sustainable development strategy.
The interesting thing about vulnerability is that it can be examined at different levels for different issues. That is, it can be used to look at a single issue, or to assess a complex entity such as a country.

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