With the highest levels of reported life satisfaction, and the highest happy life years – Costa Rica stands out in the HPI (Happy Planet Index) even before considering its ecological footprint. It has the fifth-lowest human poverty index in the developing world, and the proportion of people living on less than $2-a-day is lower than in Romania – an EU member. What makes these results even more remarkable is that it achieves this with a quarter of the footprint of the USA.
The HPI is published by NEF (the New Economics Foundation). NEF is “nef is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being”, founded in 1986 and based in London (UK).
The HPI was launched in July 2006 “as a radical departure from our current obsession with GDP”. HPI 2.0 has been calculated with new improved data sets for 143 countries, covering 99 per cent of the world’s population. Scores range from 0 to 100 – with high scores only achievable by meeting all three targets embodied in the index – high life expectancy, high life satisfaction, and a low ecological footprint. The highest HPI score is that of Costa Rica (76.1 out of 100).
Why does Costa Rica top the ranking? Happy Planet Index: “This is no matter of chance. Costa Rica, a haven of democracy and peace in turbulent Central America, has taken very deliberate steps to reduce its environmental impact. Unique in the world for having combined its ministries of energy and the environment back in the 1970s, a staggering 99 per cent of its energy comes from renewable sources. In 1997, a carbon tax was introduced on emissions – with the funds gained being used to pay indigenous communities to protect their surrounding forests. Deforestation has been reversed, and forests cover twice as much land as 20 years ago. In 2007, the Costa Rican Government declared that it intended to become carbon neutral by 2021. As a result of these huge steps, Costa Rica has risen up the ranks of Yale University’s Environmental Performance Indicator, from 15th in the world in 2006 to 5th in 2008, the highest position outside Europe.”
Professor Mariano Rojas, a Costa Rican economist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Mexico, is unsurprised by his country’s performance and adds a few further explanations:
Costa Rica is not heaven. Its welfare state, one of the most developed outside Scandinavia, must deal with an economic system that produces high levels of inequality, and almost 10 per cent of the population live on under $2- a-day. Clean water and adult literacy are almost universal, but not quite. And, whilst we wait with bated breath to see if Costa Rica really does move towards being carbon neutral in forthcoming HPIs, its current ecological footprint is still eight per cent above the one-planet living threshold.