Something to celebrate: The good and the ugly!

Published: November 19, 2012
Pakistan’s very good ranking in Happy Planet Index a blessing in disguise.

Pakistan’s very good ranking in Happy Planet Index a blessing in disguise.

Pakistan’s very good ranking in Happy Planet Index a blessing in disguise. Pakistan’s very good ranking in Happy Planet Index a blessing in disguise. DESIGN: ASAD SALEEM

Two factors that matter most to citizens of any nation are “sustainable well-being” and “presence of peace”. Living in Pakistan and specifically in Karachi, many of the discussions these days are about these very topics. In order to compare our relative well-being and existence of peace vis-a-vis other countries, there are two very interesting and credible global studies, namely the Happy Planet Index and the Global Peace Index.

Surprisingly, our ratings on these two are on diametrically different poles, one is very “good” and the other is practically “ugly”. On the Happy Planet Index, we rank 16th out of 151 countries and on the Global Peace Index we rank at the very bottom – 149th out of 158 countries.

Poor ranking on the Global Peace Index is understandable, but why are we rated so favourably on the Happy Planet Index? Majority of us don’t feel happy, considering the many challenges we face and hence cannot grasp the logic behind this rating. Let me explain the basis and the logic behind both these indices.

The Happy Planet Index

This is not about happiness but about having a happy planet, where the focus is on sustainable well-being and on how well nations are supporting their citizens to live a good life now and into the future. The question here is not which country has the highest standard of living as only four countries out of the top 40 have a GDP per capita of over $15,000, with the highest ranking Western Europe country being Norway at 29th place, way below Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Our high ranking is a result of the presence of significant untapped natural resources, vast agricultural land, rivers as well as a long coastline coupled with a relatively underdeveloped industrial base. With a minuscule industrial base, we have low incidence of carbon emission plus majority of our natural resources remain untapped. For perspective as percentage of global consumption, Pakistan consumes only 0.4% of oil and only 0.1% of coal. In comparison, USA and China together account for 30% and 52% of global oil and coal consumption. That is why despite their high standard of living and growth rates, China is ranked 60th and USA 105th on the Happy Planet Index.

Historically, GDP growth has been used to measure a nation’s progress while its associated environmental consequences are often wilfully ignored. We must never forget that our well-being and prosperity is deep-rooted in the one planet that we all share and that its resources and space are finite. The index uses three global data points in its calculations – experienced well-being, life expectancy and ecological footprint.

Experienced well-being

This is difficult to capture as in every culture and society they have their own unique benchmark of well-being, it could be quality of life, it could be education, health services, etc. To get balanced data, it uses a Gallop poll called “Ladder of Life”. This asks respondents to imagine a ladder, where 0 represents the worst possible life and 10 the best possible life, and report the step of the ladder they are currently standing on.

Life expectancy

This is a well-established indicator to calculate average number of years a person lives in a specific country based on the prevailing mortality rate.

Ecological footprint

Environmental impact is the key for sustainability of our planet. If a society has achieved very high well-being, but consumes disproportionate amount of resources not leaving much for future generations, then it cannot be considered a friend of our planet. Factors such as human demand on nature ie amount of land required to sustain a country’s consumption pattern, as well as infrastructure and area required to absorb carbon dioxide emission are used to calculate this factor.

The Happy Planet Index = (Experienced well-being x life expectancy) / ecological footprint

The Global Peace Index

This is led by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and measures the relative position of a nation’s peacefulness based on 23 factors. These factors include data on political instability, estimated deaths due to external and internal conflicts, level of violent crime, etc. It comes as no surprise that on this index we are stacked amongst the bottom 10 nations which is an ugly place to be. We have consistently dropped in the ranking, from 115th in 2007 to our current ranking of 149th.

Here, we have no one but ourselves to blame. Yes, a lot have to do with the conflict in our neighbourhood, but we have not done enough to stamp out terrorism and violent crimes within our borders as well as rampant disregard to controlling proliferation of weapons in our society.

As mentioned, our ranking in the Happy Planet Index is a blessing in disguise as we got this favourable ranking due to our low economic maturity plus the presence of immense natural resources. The watch-out is that as we plan out our future economic growth plan, we must champion eco-friendly policies and include in every plan and project the concept of sustainable development, else we will drop to a low ranking on the Global Peace Index over time as well.


Published in The Express Tribune, November 19th, 2012.


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Reader Comments (1)

  • Nadir
    Nov 19, 2012 - 2:51PM

    Corporate titan, makes not one an expert on development.


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