Human activity has an environmental footprint. We can quantify the natural world and measure the ways in which we interact with it. The indicators in this section show the state of the planet, as well as our use of natural resources, and the observed impacts. Use of natural resources can promote economic development, but environmental phenomena can also undermine economic progress, and when they do, they often affect the highly vulnerable the most. These data also describe efforts to mitigate and contain the potentially negative impact of human activity, for example by expanding marine protected areas or by transitioning to renewable energy sources.
The environment-related indicators illuminate phenomena such as urbanization and the loss of biological diversity; agricultural output and declining forest area; freshwater withdrawals and freshwater growing scarcity; electricity production and greenhouse gas emissions.
The indicators also reveal the progress that countries have made on many of the environment targets set by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For example, WDI environment indicators help to monitor progress on promoting sustainable food production systems (SDG 2.4), ensuring sustainable withdrawals and supply of fresh water (SDG 6.4), ensuring universal access to affordable, reliable, and modern energy services (SDG 7.1), reducing the adverse environmental impact of cities (SDG 11.6), conserving coastal and marine areas (SDG 14.5), and protecting and preventing the extinction of threatened species (SDG 15.5).
Every year relevant new environment indicators are added to the WDI. This year, new interim target estimates of the proportion of people exposed to ambient air pollution by particulate matter (PM2.5) based on World Health Organization air quality guidelines, were provided by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Another addition was an enhanced indicator for water stress: freshwater withdrawal as a proportion of available fresh water (SDG 6.4.2), compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Data for the environment indicators are drawn from international sources and have been standardized to the extent possible to facilitate cross-country comparisons.
When interpreting this type of data it should be kept in mind that many environmental issues stretch the limits of the cross-country approach. Because ecosystems often span national boundaries, for example, threatened species are counted in all countries where they are present (risking double counting for the unwary data user). Most of the ocean falls outside national jurisdictions, limiting the data that can be presented in the WDI framework. The majority of greenhouse gases are emitted from a local site, but once released into the atmospheric commons, they become a global problem, though with varied local effects. Conversely, access to natural resources may vary within a country: for example, water may be abundant in some parts of a country but scarce in others.
Measuring environmental phenomena and their subnational, national, and supranational effects continues to be a major challenge.
A selection of relevant indicators is presented below. The table shows, for each featured indicator, time coverage per year, for all countries, for each decade since the 1960s, and regional coverage for each World Bank geographical region since 2010. For detailed thematic lists please refer to the World Development Indicators Statistical Tables.