The Little Green Data Book, a World Bank publication that compiles environmental indicators for more than 200 countries annually, celebrated its 10th anniversary last week. Looking back over the last ten years, the popular pocket-size publication notes that countries have mixed track records in managing the environment.
Uneven availability of environmental data also emerges as a hindrance to promoting and monitoring environmental sustainability according to the 10th edition.“Environmental data helps us to understand whether countries are on a sustainable development path or not,” said Warren Evans, Director of the Environment Department, World Bank. Speaking at the launch of the 10th edition on July 29 in Washington DC, Evans said, “Environmental sustainability underpins the factors of production and the well being and productivity of the labor force, but too often is relegated to the back burner when important investment and policy decisions are made. Policy makers need more and better environmental information to help them make better decisions.”
Each year over the past 10 years, the Little Green Data Book has taken the pulse of the world’s environment, recording progress in some areas but regression in others, with wide disparities across regions.
Under the headings of agriculture, forests and biodiversity, energy, emissions and pollution, water and sanitation, environment and health, and national accounts aggregates, the Little Green Data Book compiles 50 indicators for over 200 countries each year.
The Little Green Data Book is based on the World Development Indicators (WDI), the primary World Bank database for development data from officially-recognized international sources.
In April of this year, the World Bank Group launched an open data initiative that gives free access to its comprehensive set of data on development issues around the globe. Data had previously been available by subscription only. Now nearly 1000 WDI indicators, including the 50 environment-related featured in the Little Green Data Book, are available free of charge on one World Bank website.
“All policymakers and development professionals, no matter what sector they are active in, should be able to find much of the information they need in the Little Green Data Book,” said Kirk Hamilton, Lead Environmental Economist, World Bank.
Environmental Trends over Past Decade
Urban air pollution declined in most countries between 2000 and 2006 (the most recent year for which data is available), with the greatest progress in low-income and lower middle-income countries. But concentration levels are still nearly three times higher in these countries than in high-income countries.
The world has become drier in the last decade as water resources per capita have diminished under the pressure of fast-growing population. Water availability is below scarcity levels in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia.
Forest cover has fallen in Latin America and the Caribbean, South Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In developing countries the net loss of forest area for 2000–07 is estimated at 80,000 square kilometers a year, roughly the size of Portugal.
Also, the lack of access to energy continues to be an important health risk factor in the poorest countries, where nearly 50 percent of energy use comes from biomass fuels and waste.
The Little Green Data Book also estimates adjusted net savings, which measures the annual changes in a country’s total wealth. The literature shows that a positive adjusted net savings rate is a necessary condition—although not a sufficient one—for sustained growth. Unfortunately, many economies appear to be failing this practical test.
The uneven availability of environmental data has been one of the main challenges for the Little Green Data Book team. In the years to come, the team working on the publication aims to further collaborate across the institution in helping development practitioners to understand the story behind the numbers and to help build stronger capacity in data collection and use.
According to Giovanni Ruta, Economist in the World Bank’s Environment Department, “A substantive effort is needed to increase country coverage and fill the existing data gaps on levels of indoor air pollution, water pollution, soil and forest degradation or ecosystem services, as well as data on levels of groundwater, and the health of local fisheries. These are all important environmental statistics,” he said.