Global wake-up call for stronger commitment to sustainable development

Ten years on from the Rio summit, no country is sustainable or even close to sustainability, and there is no real commitment amongst nations to sustainable development, according to a new report.

The Wellbeing of Nations report, backed by a group of international environmental organisation led by the Swiss-based IUCN – The World

Conservation Union, revealed that even Sweden, in first place amongst the 180 countries surveyed, is termed as an “ecosystem deficit” country that “obtains an advanced standard of living through environmental damage”.

Behind Sweden comes Canada 7th, Germany 13th, Australia 18th, Japan 24th, and the USA 27th. Northern Europe is the strongest region with 12 countries in the top 40, including the five leaders. West Asia is the weakest, with nine countries in the bottom 40, and the most with high or extreme differences.

Based on a ‘Wellbeing’ assessment that gives equal weight to human development and the environment, the survey also indicates that all countries with high standards of living are placing undue pressure on the environment. However, it is possible to achieve a “high quality of life” for a lower environmental price, according to Achim Steiner, Director General of the World Conservation Union, one of the bodies backing the survey, by “changing the way that development is pursued”. Steiner said the report sends a clear message to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held in Johannesburg, next year.

“All countries need to recommit themselves to sustainable development and find practical ways to combine human development with the protection of ecosystems,” said Steiner.

Freedom, good governance and education are key to achieving this aim, according to the author of the report, Canadian, Robert Prescott-Allen, who is also one of the developers of the new Wellbeing approach. Communication infrastructure, basic services, peace and order are also assessed to broaden the range of human factors monitored under the Wellbeing assessment beyond GDP, the Human Development Index and the Environmental Sustainability Index. The resulting Human Wellbeing index is compared with an Ecosystem Wellbeing index on a sustainability barometer to indicate how well societies are combining human and ecosystem wellbeing, and hence how close they are to sustainability.

Using these measures, the study finds that four billion people live in countries with a poor or bad level of human development. Less than one billion people live in countries with a fair or good standard of living. The disparity between the best and worst off is huge. For example, Sweden is 19 times more efficient in increasing wellbeing than Somalia without increasing the damage to the environment.

The Wellbeing of Nations is published by the International Development

Research Centre and Island Press in cooperation with IUCN, International Institute for Environment and Development, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Map Maker Ltd, and UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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