- SOPAC Applied Geoscience and Technology Division of SPC
- SPC, Secretariat of the Pacific Community
- UNEP, United Nations Environment Programme
- GRID-Arendal, Norwegian Foundation to communicate environmental information to policy-makers and facilitate environmental decision-making for change
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The 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.
The purpose of this 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:
- To obtain peer-review and commentary from experts;
- To obtain constructive technical inputs to improve the EVI to make it acceptable and/or operational in the international community;
- Provide expert reference towards the setting and justification of sustainable thresholds of EVI indicators
- 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.
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The EVI is based on 50 indicators for estimating the vulnerability of the environment of a country to future shocks. These indicators are combined by simple averaging and reported simultaneously as a single index, a range of policy-relevant thematic sub-indices and as a profile showing the results for each indicator. Simple averages across indicators were used because they can be easily understood and more complex models do not appear to offer any advantages to the expression or utility of the index. This overview with drill-down structure means that in addition to an overall signal of vulnerability, the EVI can be used to identify specific problems. The EVI has been designed to reflect the extent to which the natural environment of a country is prone to damage and degradation. It does not address the vulnerability of the social, cultural or economic environment, nor the environment that has become dominated by those same human systems (such as cities and farms) because these are included in the economic and social vulnerability indices which are needed separately to identify trade-offs.
Therefore, the natural environment includes those biophysical systems that can be sustained without direct and/or continuing human support. The environment at risk includes ecosystems, habitats, populations and communities of organisms, physical and biological processes (such as beach building and reproduction), productivity and energy flows, diversity at all levels, and interactions among them all. Each of these ecosystem goods, services and relationships may be affected by natural and human hazards, the risk of which may vary with time, place and human choices and behaviour. The indicators used are ‘smart’ or end-point indicators, selected because they signal a wide variety of conditions and processes that must be operating well if that measure is favourable in terms of environmental vulnerability. Smart indicators are a way of minimising data requirements while providing a good characterisation of environmental vulnerability. For example, the presence in a country of a high percentage of original forest cover automatically indicates that all the processes that lead to maintenance of good cover must be operating well for that end-point to be present, without the need to measure the many hundreds of indicators that could individually lead to losses. The conditions present may include good policies for preservation, low widespread degradation, sufficient renewable water recharge, and little problem with acid rain.
There are three distinct aspects of vulnerability recognisable for environmental, economic and social aspects of countries, all of which need to be evaluated to provide an overall sense of the issues at play. These are the risks associated with hazards, resistance and acquired vulnerability (damage). The first aspect relates to the likelihood of hazards coming into play, while the latter two aspects are related to the ability of the environment to withstand the effects of hazards. In the EVI, indicators were specifically selected to ensure that information on these three aspects is incorporated in the overall vulnerability of countries. There are 32 indicators of hazards, 8 of resistance and 10 that measure damage. The hazard indicators relate to the frequency and intensity of hazardous events. The resistance indicators refer to the inherent characteristics of a country that would tend to make it more or less able to cope with natural and anthropogenic hazards. This includes measures such as absolute size (there are fewer options for refuges in small countries) and number of shared borders (there are greater risks of trans-boundary effects). Damage indicators relate to the vulnerability that has been acquired through loss of ecological integrity or increasing levels of degradation of ecosystems. The underlying assumption is that the more degraded the ecosystems of a country (as a result of past natural and anthropogenic hazards), the more vulnerable it is likely to be to future hazards. Indicators were also selected to ensure a good spread of information across the different elements that comprise and/or affect ecosystems. Indicators on weather & climate (6 indicators), geology (4), geography (6), ecosystem resources & services (28) and human populations (6) were chosen to ensure a good cross-section of the ecological processes, including human interactions occurring in countries.
For most indicators, signals are based on average levels observed over the past 5 years, but may include data for much longer periods for geological events. The indicators signal risk potentials based on the experience of the immediate past because these are the influences most likely to affect short-term trends in environmental vulnerability and how ecosystems may respond to hazards compared with the years preceding them. This does not imply that that there are no effects of older events, only that the EVI has been designed to focus on this time frame. With repeated evaluations, the EVI will demonstrate changes in otherwise longer-term processes. The outcome of this strategy will be an understanding that for a while after an event, vulnerability to future hazards is elevated. The short timeframe also allows improvements to be measured quickly for indicators that can be directly influenced by human action.
All of the EVI’s indicators are transformed to a common scale so that they can be combined by averaging, and to facilitate the setting of thresholds of vulnerability. This new scale has been designed to reflect the environmental vulnerability associated with each indicator, regardless of any other scale on which an indicator could simultaneously exist. The EVI scale was defined as ranging between a value of 1 (indicating high resilience / low vulnerability) and 7 (indicating low resilience / high vulnerability). The EVI scale was determined separately for each indicator, is designed to be policy- relevant, and is based on the best available scientific information.
This manual is for people and organisations wishing to better understand the issue of environmental vulnerability and resilience as a basis for ensuring sustainable development through the application of the Environmental Vulnerability Index (EVI). This manual provides a guide on how to generate EVI values for countries and for specific management areas and will be of value to non-profit organisations, community development and economic development organisations, and state and local government officials.
The purpose of this manual is to increase understanding of environmental vulnerability and resilience issues primarily at the national level. It provides a tool for initiating or furthering projects that focus on specific environmental management issues. It is hoped that those who use this manual, will be able to develop an understanding of environmental vulnerability and resilience, the Environmental Vulnerability Index, how to generate an EVI and apply the results obtained.
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To be able to calculate an EVI requires the compilation of relevant environmental vulnerability data for the 50 indicators. Once compiled then this data must be used to calculate each indicator. As the indicators are heterogeneous, include variables for which responses are numerical, qualitative and on different scales (linear, non-linear, or with different ranges) they are mapped onto a 1 – 7 vulnerability scale. Where data is not available, no value is given for the indicator and the denominator of the average adjusted down by one value. Where an indicator is considered ‘non- applicable’ in a country (such as volcanic eruptions in Tuvalu which has no volcanoes), the lowest vulnerability score of 1 is attributed to that indicator. The vulnerability scores for each indicator are then accumulated either into categories or sub-indices and the average calculated. An overall average of all indicators is calculated to generate the country EVI. The EVI is accumulated into three sub-indices:
The 50 EVI indicators are also divided up in the issue categories for use as required:
- Climate change
- Agriculture and fisheries
- Human health aspects
- Exposure to natural disasters
Vulnerability scores for each EVI indicator are then presented graphically. This profile gives an immediate visual representation of what the most important vulnerability issues are for the environment. Clearly this provides a simple tool for identifying the most significant vulnerability issues and helps to explain priority issues to the non-scientist.
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The 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
Work 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
- 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.