It’s often been assumed that a heavy carbon footprint is highly correlated with levels of national development. Moreover, it’s assumed that economic development is an essential part of building national well-being. The logical conclusions of such propositions is that national well-being must decline if carbon emissions are to be cut. Here is a most interesting study from nef, the new economics foundation, which challenges these assumptions.
nef begins by rating countries in the EU on a well-being index, which combines life satisfaction and life expectancy measures. Northern European countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Switzerland rate highly on this index. Transition countries such as Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia and Romania rate lowest. The largest European countries, such as German, France and the UK, rate somewhere in the middle.
nef then rates these countries by carbon footprint, the amount of resources used by each European nation to support its lifestyles. Again Scandinavian countries rate highest in efficiency, with the UK, Finland, Estonia and Luxembourg at the bottom. Interestingly, only Latvia is rated as truly sustainable in its use of resources. Again, Germany and France are in the middle.
Combining the two indices gives a picture of how well countries are doing in delivering well-being to their citizens with low impact on carbon emissions. Scandinavian countries stand out, as having some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints while delivering high levels of economic, social and personal well-being. Iceland rates highest in Europe, along with Sweden and Norway. The UK sits at 21st (out of 30), just behind France and Germany, with only transition countries such as Portugal, Greece and Luxembourg doing worse. Latvia, despite being a transition country, come a respectable eleventh.
nef concludes from this study that there are three key targets for policy makers who want to reduce national carbon emissions while maintaining high levels of well-being:
Reduce consumption overall and set legally binding targets for carbon reduction: shift to lifestyles which require the consumption of less resources, particularly in energy, through renewables and decentralisation; set carbon budgets for 3-5 year periods.
Reduce inequalities: maintain the social cohesion and social capital required to develop shared solutions to our environmental problems; provide more support to local communities.
Support meaningful lives: particularly in the workplace, through flexible work practice, volunteering, eduction and training; incorporate well-being to inform policy making across government.
nef concludes: “Individuals, communities, governments and societies at large can afford to greatly reduce their levels of consumption without it needing to undermine the well-being of the citizens of Europe.”
Download the nef report here.