The listing is called the Happy Planet Index (HPI) which is the first-ever index to combine environmental impact with well-being to measure the environmental efficiency with which countries provide long and happy lives. Vanuatu, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), scored the highest. The lowest was Zimbabwe. SIDS scored particularly well with an average that is significantly higher than that for all nations.
The HPI strips the view of the economy back to its absolute basics: what we put in (resources), and what comes out (human lives of different length and happiness). The result reveals that the world as a whole has a long way to go. In terms of delivering long and meaningful lives within the Earth’s environmental limits no country achieves an overall ‘high’ score on the Index, and no country does well on all three indicators.
The results are surprising, even shocking. The ranking unmasks a very different world order to that promoted by Western leaders. The Group of Eight (G8), the forum of the heads of leading industrialized nations that met last week in Russia, failed to make the top 50. Host Russia came in at 172, with the United States at 150 and the UK at number 108.
In Africa, Seychelles ranked second after Sao Tome and Principe, also a SIDS. Seychelles has a better score for Life Satisfaction and for Life Expectancy than any country in Africa but also has the largest Ecological Footprint. The Footprint of a country is best understood as a measure of its consumption and its worldwide environmental impact. Seychelles therefore is not as environmentally friendly as we seem to think it is.
SIDS have higher Life Satisfaction, Higher Life Expectancy and marginally lower Ecological Footprints than other states. Yet incomes (by GDP per capita) are roughly equal to the world average. Even within regions, islands do well. Malta tops the Western world. The top five HPI nations in Africa are all islands; as well as two of the top four in Asia.
The report tries to explain the above average ranking of SIDS by speculating that a more acute awareness of environmental limits has helped island societies to bond better and to adapt to get more from less. Combined with the enhanced well-being that stems from close contact with nature, the world as a whole stands to learn much from the experience of islands, the report says.
The HPI shows that beyond a certain level, vastly increasing consumption fails to lead to greater well-being. It also says that if it were possible for the rest of the world to emulate the higher than average Life Expectancy and Life Satisfaction of people living in SIDS and to follow their generally lower than average Ecological Footprint, the world would be a better place.