development sustainability

Development has two directions

I used this graph in a presentation recently, but it occurs to me that I’ve never posted it on the blog. It’s from the Footprint Network, and it shows the UN Human Development Index along the horizontal, and Ecological Footprint on the vertical. The coloured spots are countries*. The further those coloured dots are to the right, the better they are doing at providing income, health and education to their citizens. The lower they are, the more sustainable. target2

There’s another element to the graph – the green and blue lines that disect the graph. The blue one is the cut-off point for developed countries. Anything past 0.8 on the index is high development. The green horizontal line just shows a sustainable ecological footprint, currently just below 2 hectares per person. Ideally, countries need to be both delivering high welfare to citizens and doing so sustainably. That would put them in the corner at the bottom right. That blue box, you will note, is empty. (If you’re curious, the country on the join there is Ecuador).

Putting sustainability and human development together like this shows that there are two directions to development – on this graph, right and down. Nations need to be improving welfare, but also improving environmental performance. There are also two ways to fail as a country in the 21st century. You can lag behind on human development, and fail to provide for your citizens. Much less recognised is that you can also fail by overshooting the sustainability waterline, putting future prosperity at risk through pollution and over-consumption of resources today.

There’s one other thing to point out about this graph, and that’s that the green line can move. Because we’ve overshot the earth’s biocapacity, it is reducing every year. That means that the green line is dropping lower, and that blue box that we all have to aim for is getting smaller by the year, a race with a receding finish line.

The image here is static, but it’s actually from an animation on the Footprint network. On their site you can see which countries are which on the graph, and see how performance has changed over the years.

*observant readers may notice that the Middle East and Central Asian countries are missing. You’d have to ask the Footprint Network where they’ve gone.

1 comment

  1. What’s not included in this is equity of distribution. Some of the Lating American countries who look to be doing quite well on the balance between sustainability and developement do so at least partly because of inequality

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