Footprint Network Blog - Human Development
How did you celebrate UN World Happiness Day last Sunday? All of us had plenty to chew on with the release of the World Happiness Report 2016—the fourth edition since 2012. Prepared by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of economists, psychologists and public health experts convened by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the happiness ranking of 156 countries was based on individual responses to a global poll conducted by Gallup.
The scholars found that three-quarters of the variation across countries could be explained by six variables: gross domestic product per capita (the rawest measure of a nation’s wealth); healthy years of life expectancy; social support; trust (as measured by perceived absence of corruption in government and business); perceived freedom to make life choices; and generosity (as measured by donations).
The glaring omission on this list is the significance of resource consumption. Yet combining the Happiness Index and Ecological Footprint data on one graph reveals interesting patterns.
Unsurprisingly, the disturbing picture that emerges from the graph is that a high Ecological Footprint is the typical cost of happiness. In this year’s ranking, Denmark was No. 1, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden. Most have strong social safety nets and high Ecological Footprints.
At the bottom of the list lies Burundi, where a violent political crisis broke out last year. Burundi was preceded by Syria, Togo, Afghanistan, Benin, Rwanda, Guinea, Liberia, Tanzania and Madagascar. All of those are low-income countries—displaying a low Ecological Footprint—and many have been destabilized by war, disease or both.
On the good news front, many countries in Central America (Costa Rica especially), South America and the Caribbean stand out overall for managing both a relatively high Happiness Index and a relatively low Ecological Footprint.
A more refined analysis reveals that only one country within the top 50 percentile of happiness (Nicaragua) has an Ecological Footprint of less than 1.7 global hectares – the amount of biocapacity currently available per person on the planet. The silver-lining, however, is that for any level of happiness score, there is a large spread in Ecological Footprint among countries. This is particularly true at the high happiness end of the spectrum. The good news here is that some countries are already demonstrating that it is possible to sustain a high level of happiness on a relatively small Ecological Footprint per capita.
Why does happiness matter? Because it helps us live longer, healthier and more productive lives. And being happy is a great goal in itself. Since the king of Bhutan pioneered the Gross Happiness Product in 1972, happiness has emerged as an important development goal on the world stage. In July 2011, the United Nations even passed Resolution 65/309, placing “happiness” on the global development agenda.
Going forward, the single most important question for local and national communities to explore is this: How can we thrive and be happy while living off a sustainable Ecological Footprint? To clarify, this would require for the world average Footprint to drop below 1.7 global hectares if we want to provision for wild species and for a growing human population, translating into a drastic reduction for most countries ranked high on the Happiness Index.
Some initiatives are already pointing the way, such as Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Ireland. But the transformation will need to occur at a systemic level and on a massive scale for the change to be meaningful — infrastructures, industries, lifestyles.
The challenge is simply massive. And so are the opportunities. In this respect, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris climate agreement, as well as policy agendas and business strategies such as the Green Economy and the Circular Economy, are significant steps in the right direction.
On a final note, Gallup’s global poll that drove the happiness ranking was essentially based on one question known as the Cantril Ladder: “Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?”
We look forward to the day when residents in many more countries feel they can climb to the top of the ladder without leaving the planet lower down.
You may also be interested in checking out:
The true sustainability of sustainable development, as revealed by the Ecological Footprint and the UN Human Development Index.
The Happy Planet Index, which uses the Ecological Footprint as a major metric of sustainable well-being.
This is the fourth post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and think, “What am I going to face today? What kind of issue will it be: fish kill, pollution from industry, or destruction from a typhoon?”
As the general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, I am responsible for managing and protecting the environment of one of the most densely populated areas on earth, the home of 25 million people, in the heart of the Philippines. I also serve as the environmental adviser to the president of the Philippines, one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in the world.
The Philippines’ development path has been heavily unsustainable. Over-extraction and over-consumption of the country’s natural resources have made us more vulnerable to climate change-related calamities. Today the country is an ecological debtor—our nation’s citizens demand more ecological resources and services than our ecosystems can regenerate.
Beijing, China–Global Footprint Network launched the beta version of a new website, www.zujiwangluo.org, on Nov. 12 to build on and support the growing interest in the Ecological Footprint among partners and practitioners in government and academia throughout China.
The website, a core element of our Footprint initiatives in China, was launched today to support WWF China’s Living Planet Report-China 2015. The report, to which Global Footprint Network contributed, shows that in less than two generations time, China’s per-person demand on nature has more than doubled. This increase in demand went hand in hand with a substantial loss in the abundance of wild species: The average population size of China’s terrestrial vertebrates declined by half from 1970 to 2010.
Global Footprint Network’s new China website aims to serve as a collaboration platform for practitioners in government and academia in China who share the common goal of making Ecological Footprint accounting and related tools as rigorous as possible to fulfill China’s vision of an ecological civilization. The website’s name means “footprint network” in Mandarin.
This is the second post in a series titled “Making A Difference” where we highlight a different voice each week. See our full list here.
Since I was a child growing up in southern Iran, years of severe drought have threatened the vitality of the rich farmland in my native Fars province, Iran’s traditional bread basket. Today, as a PhD student in agricultural development at Shiraz University in Iran, I am exploring innovative ways to help make agriculture sustainable in Iran, especially in the Fars province.
As part of my commitment to revitalizing agriculture in Fars, I am excited to be over 7,000 miles from home, working with Global Footprint Network researchers as an intern in the organization’s Oakland, California, office.
In my internship, I am learning to measure the sustainability of my region’s agricultural practices by using Ecological Footprint accounting to measure demand and supply of natural resources. I’m also very interested in providing the Ecological Footprint as a practical decision-making tool at the provincial level, and even at a more granular scale like the individual farm.
This is a series of blog posts titled "Making A Difference" where we highlight a different voice each week.
Throughout 2015, we have been eagerly awaiting the climate talks in Paris that began this week. Recent events have expanded the conversation to restoring peace, security and safety. To live in harmony and peace, however, we need to ensure a healthy world that guarantees all people have basic resource security. The link between climate change and national security continues to be more important than ever. Read more.
Not a day goes by that I don’t wake up and think, "What am I going to face today? What kind of issue will it be: fish kill, pollution from industry, or destruction from a typhoon?"
As the general manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, I am responsible for managing and protecting the environment one of the most densely populated areas on earth, the home of 25 million people, in the heart of the Philippines. Read Neurus' story.
Two years ago I decided against building my dream home after falling in love with the Ecological Footprint. A question for clearly measuring sustainability led me to this unique data-based approach to calculate humanity's impact on the planet, including my family's. Read Daniel's story.
Since I was a child growing up in southern Iran, years of severe drought have threatened the vitality of the rich farmland in my native Fars province, Iran’s traditional bread basket. Today, as a PhD student in agricultural development at Shiraz University in Iran, I am exploring innovative ways to help make agriculture sustainable in Iran, especially in the Fars province. Read Mahsa's story.
I had two passions as a kid: nature and technology. After starting as an electrical engineering and computer science undergraduate at University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), I realized my path lay elsewhere. Read David's story.
The United Nations launches global goals to achieve humanity’s collective dream: sustainable development
This week marks an extraordinary moment for humanity. Representatives of 193 nations are convening in New York at the United Nations to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals lay out the conditions we need to secure great lives on this one planet for all, regardless of income level, gender or ethnicity.
At a time when global economic uncertainty and human tragedy dominate the news cycle, this unique opportunity to bring the universal dream of sustainable development to the forefront of public attention worldwide is definitely worth celebrating.
We are pleased that the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre has proposed the Ecological Footprint as an SDG metric for Goal 12.2: "by 2030 achieve sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources."
And we can't help but ask the following question: How do we know whether all the SDG activities generate sustainable development? With the United Nations on the verge of adopting sustainable development as its central agenda, how do we know whether all the potential activities on the 169 goals are adding up to sustainable development?
Our vision is that all people of the Earth live well and within the means of nature. We are delighted when this vision is shared by others around the world, and honored when we meet individuals equally passionate about sustainability. Last month, we had the pleasure to meet Freddy Ehlers, minister of the Buen Vivir program in Ecuador. "Buen vivir" translates roughly to good living in English. The program promotes finding a meaning to life that makes living it worthwhile, inspired by service to others and respect toward all beings in nature.
Over the course of his 40-year career, Freddy has worked as a journalist, documentary film producer, Andean community secretary general and Ecuadorian minister of tourism. He studied law at the Universidad Central del Ecuador, pursued graduate studies in political science at Davidson College in the United States and received media training at the Radio Netherlands Training Centre in Holland.
We asked Freddy a few questions about his work at the Ministry of Buen Vivir.
Today is the International Day of Families, a day marked annually by the UN General Assembly on the 15th of May to “increase knowledge of the social, economic and demographic processes affecting families.” This year’s focus is gender equality, including education and income-generation opportunity.
As an organization with a vision of a world that works for everyone, we believe that empowering women is one of the most important things we can do in service of global sustainability because it yields huge benefits not only for children and families, but for the world as a whole.
“When women have the opportunity to participate as equals, lower reproductive rates invariably ensue,” says Global Footprint Network CEO Susan Burns. “The reason this is so important is that we cannot ignore population growth if we are truly committed to people having secure lives in a world of finite resources.”
As we are greeting the New Year, we want to take a moment to pause, thank our generous supporters and celebrate what we accomplished over the past 12 months. Here are the highlights.
A major milestone for us was the launch, last June in London, of Phase II of ERISC with our partners in the finance industry. Environmental Risk Integration in Sovereign Credit, a research project that seeks to quantify how environmental risk can impact the balance sheet of nations, is a joint program with the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative. We are grateful to participating institutions Caisse des Dépôts, the European Investment Bank, First State Investments, HSBC, Kempen Capital Management, KfW and Standard & Poor’s, who embarked on that journey with us. We are looking forward to announcing first research results and findings in 2015.
Our staff has been busy this past month spreading the word about the Ecological Footprint at conferences and engagements around the world. Click locations below to learn more about our work.