Category Archives: environmental well-being

Costa Rica tops the Happy Planet Index for the third time

Photo credit:   Beth Rankin

Karen Jeffrey is a researcher at the new economics foundation (nef). This blog was previously published under the title “This is the most efficient economy in the world” on the nef blog.

The 2016 Happy Planet Index (HPI) results are in. For the fourth time, we’ve ranked countries all over the world based on how efficiently their residents are able to live long, happy lives right now, and in the future.

Still, no country has been able to achieve the ultimate goal of long lives and high wellbeing for all within sustainable ecological limits. In fact, the results challenge the conventional wisdom that wealth equates to delivering a successful economy, and offer valuable insights into the policies that might deliver long, happy lives within environmental limits.

What is the Happy Planet Index?

The HPI is the leading measure of sustainable wellbeing. It combines four elements – wellbeing, life expectancy, inequality of outcomes, and ecological footprint – to show how efficiently residents of different countries are using environmental resources to lead long, happy lives.

How’s it looking in the UK?

The UK places a disappointing 34th out of 140 countries. But it’s not the only wealthy nation that fails to place near the top of the rankings – no G8 economy appears in the top 30.

The UK performs relatively strongly on wellbeing and life expectancy on average and in terms of how equally the scores are distributed across the population. But like most other advanced economies, it is denied a place in the HPI‘s top 20, due to its high and unsustainable ecological footprint – a whopping 4.9 global hectares per capita. However, the UK still comes out ahead of France (44th) and Germany (49th), but behind Norway (12th) and Spain (15th).

The most efficient economy in the world is….

Costa Rica has topped the 2016 Happy Planet Index rankings for the third time. The tiny tropical nation is far ahead of the UK and beats many Western economies on sustainable wellbeing.

The overall results highlight success stories in Latin America and Asia Pacific, where residents enjoy relatively high and equally distributed life expectancy and wellbeing, while leaving a smaller ecological footprint than other more advanced economies.

What does success look like?

In Costa Rica, people are living longer, and are more satisfied with life than people living in the USA – although there is slightly higher inequality in how these outcomes are distributed within the population of Costa Rica. What really sets the country apart is that it manages to combine long, happy lives with an environmental impact that’s little more than one third of the size of the USA’s.

So what’s the secret to Costa Rica’s success?

Since abolishing its army in 1949, Costa Rica has reallocated its defence budget to funding education, health and pensions.  The culture of forming solid social networks of friends, families and neighbourhoods is another factor that’s contributing to Costa Rican’s high wellbeing.

Costa Rica is also a world leader when it comes to environmental protection. 99% of electricity used there comes from renewable sources and the government is far ahead of many wealthier nations, having committed the country to becoming carbon neutral by 2021.

While Costa Rica’s commitment to environmental sustainability is impressive, it still has some way to go before its Ecological Footprint of 2.8 global hectares per capita reaches the sustainable level of 1.7 global hectares per capita.

Like every nation, Costa Rica has more work to do to reach the ultimate goal of truly sustainable wellbeing. But its success, scoring top place on the HPI, demonstrates that there are alternatives to the development paths that have been followed in the West. It provides a shining example of a country that is well on its way to creating good lives that don’t cost the Earth.

To explore the full results, or to find out more about the other high-ranking countries visit


Putting green growth at the heart of development

Jan Corfee-Morlot, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, shares her insights on the OECD’s recent publication “Putting Green Growth at the Heard of Development” . This blog is part of the Wikiprogress Environment Series.

The rapid pace of development in many developing countries raises the stakes for investments in development, but also begs reflection on the patterns or types of growth that are appropriate for a particular country context. Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development is a new OECD publication. It explains why green growth is vital to secure a more sustainable future for developing countries and outlines how national and international action can help achieve this.
Green growth does not replace sustainable development, but is a key means to achieving it. Developing economies are highly dependent on natural resources and also highly vulnerable to resource scarcity and environmental risk. By integrating the value of natural assets into the growth model, green growth policies can deliver a range of developmental and environmental benefits. If policies are designed to respond to the needs of the poorest, green growth also can contribute to poverty reduction and social equity.
Based on in-depth consultations and engagement with a range of developing countries, this book brings to light 74 policies and measures from 37 countries as well as 5 regional initiatives that target green growth. Examples range from Cambodia to Ethiopia’s efforts to integrate green growth in national development plans, to China and Cameroon’s use of taxation policies to sustain the use of natural resources, or Indonesia and Ghana’s efforts to  boost government resources for priority issues and improve the incentives for clean energy investment through reform of fossil fuel subsidies. The large number of examples demonstrate growing interest and experience in developing countries with green growth policies. 
The report responds to many of the concerns and questions we often hear about green growth, for instance:  How do we manage the costs of implementing green growth? How do we make green growth and trade work together?
I’m sure that choosing a greener pathway for economic growth will generate up-front costs for some developing economies in the short term, whether to build better infrastructure or to put in place a system to limit over-harvesting of forests or fisheries. Balancing difficult short-term trade-offs with longer-term benefits will be challenging as countries make choices to deliver a more stable and sustainable future. Despite these challenges, the many examples described in the report present a clear and hopeful message: green growth can generate both wealth and well-being for citizens of current and future generations.
Developing countries will need leadership to integrate environmental concerns into development plans and to take bold actions to reform policies. It will be important to secure and publicise some immediate gains, but also to educate and inform people about the risks of non-green development pathways and the need to manage these. Lasting institutional reforms will need to build engagement, be step-wise and emphasise the need to learn and adjust to achieve green growth over time.
Beyond the national policy agenda, international cooperation can provide essential support to developing countries in managing a transition to green growth. Financing green infrastructure, strengthening access to international markets, boosting trade in green products and services, and promoting technological transfer and cooperation are key.
Highlighting both the opportunities and challenges, the OECD Secretary General Gurría said: “Putting green growth at the heart of the development agenda requires real political leadership to instil change at international, national and local levels. Our report shows that green growth can offer new opportunities for developing countries. We are looking forward to working with governments and the development co-operation community to reap the benefits of a greener growth path for the well-being of the people in our partner countries.”
Green growth can help countries to benefit from greater efficiency and productivity in natural resource use, and from innovation and new markets. More importantly, if we do not green our act today, the development achieved so far could be significantly eroded and future growth potential seriously compromised. Green growth is not an option – it is a must-do for delivering sustainable development and global security for all.
Jan Corfee-Morlot
Senior Policy Analyst and Environment and Development Team Leader, OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

This post first appeared on the Green Growth.Knowledge Platform, here

For more information on OECD work on green growth and development, see: 

Check the level of well-being and sustainability for your country!

News update – the Sustainable Society Index, SSI-2012

The new 2012 update of the Sustainable Society Index, SSI, was released on 29 November,  again showing at a glance the level of wellbeing and sustainability for 151 countries. You are invited to have a look yourself on our website. See how your country is doing, make your own correlations and comparisons with other countries. And use the information to help change your country’s policy towards sustainability.

The world’s overall score with respect to sustainability is now 4.74 on a scale of 1 to 10. Over the past 6 years this score has won 0.13, about 0.02 per year. Thus we are moving in the right direction. However, if we don’t speed up, it will take over 200 years to achieve a sustainable society with a score of 10. But that is just theory. Either we will accelerate the progress, or we’ll have to face disasters, which may prevent us from ever achieving the required sustainability.

More important than to look at the overall index, is to see how the three wellbeing dimensions that define the SSI are performing. Of these three, Human Wellbeing scores best, 6.2, and shows the  largest progress. Environmental Wellbeing is lagging way behind with a score of 4.5 and is even slightly in decline. This is due to poor performance of the categories Climate & Energy and Natural Resources. Economic Wellbeing, considered to be the precondition for achieving Human and Environmental Wellbeing, has the lowest score, 3.8, with a slight increase over the 6 years since SSI-2006.

Good news is that all three indicators for the category Basic Needs, i.e. Sufficient Food, Sufficient to Drink and Safe Sanitation, are in progress. Certainly not enough, since over eight hundred million people are undernourished and/or have no access to safe drinking water; more than 1.8 billion people have no access to Safe Sanitation. But there is progress, in absolute figures as well as percentage wise. Indicators which are performing worst are Renewable Energy – in spite of the need felt world-wide for a rapid change to renewables – and Organic Farming. And contrary to all good intentions, the quantities of Greenhouse Gase Emissions have increased, resulting in lower scores.

GDP is the fastest growing indicator. Apparently, the huge increase in income has hardly been used for progress towards sustainability.
The regional differences are still large. There is, not surprisingly, a correlation with income. The high income countries in Europe, North America and Oceania are performing well on Human Wellbeing and show a poor performance on Environmental Wellbeing. For low income countries, the picture is quite opposite.

For more details visit

In 2012 the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, JRC, has audited the SSI and concluded ‘that the revised SSI framework is conceptually coherent and meets the statistical requirements set by JRC. The SSI is well suited to assess nation’s development towards sustainability in its broad sense: Human, Environmental and Economic Wellbeing.

Geurt van de Kerk
Sustainable Society Foundation