There has been a decline in Happy Planet Index in South Asia, the study found.

South Asia least happy region globally: Happy Planet Index Report

An index that combines data on self-reported wellbeing, life expectancy and carbon footprint sees a decline in South Asia with India ranking low on the index

According to the latest edition of the Happy Planet Index (HPI) launched by the Hot or Cool Institute in Berlin, India ranks 121st out of 147 countries with a score of 27.8. The most populous country in the region (and in 2023 the world), has a particularly low score on self-reported well-being (3.6 in 2021).

By combining the data on self-reported wellbeing, life expectancy and carbon footprint, the HPI looked at how well countries are doing at providing their citizens a healthy, happy and dignified life without overtaxing the planet. 

According to the report, there has been a decline in HPI in South Asia and North Africa and the Middle East, which could be through decreases in self-reported wellbeing. Having started with a relatively average self-reported wellbeing in 2006, South Asia is now (and was in 2019) the least happy region in the world, with self-reported well being even lower than in sub-Saharan Africa. Only one country in the region—Bhutan— has a self-reported well being score above the halfway mark.

The study found that the country with the best score is Vanuatu— an island nation in the South Pacific. The country achieved a life expectancy of 70.4 years and a self-reported well being score of 7.1 out of 10, all with a carbon footprint that is well below the globally fair share of 3.17 tonnes CO₂e per capita. The five countries with the highest HPI scores are Vanuatu, Sweden, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Region wise, Western Europe has overtaken Latin America as the highest scoring region since the last compiling of HPI.

GDP: A flawed way of measuring what matters 

The report said of the 10 countries with the highest per capita GDP, 6 have achieved below average HPI scores. Pursuing ever higher GDP does not necessarily lead to what really matters —wellbeing within environmental limits, the report warned.

In many wealthy nations, high levels of consumption and production are contributing to ecological collapse without providing health or happiness for their citizens. Across the board, there is very little correlation between GDP and HPI, and neither should be the one indicator that countries use to determine their success.

“HPI should not replace existing metrics, but instead encourage countries to democratically adopt alternative measures of progress,” says Dr. Saamah Abdallah, Programme Lead Sustainable Wellbeing at the Hot or Cool Institute. “Citizens should take the lead in defining what matters and what should be measured.”

High environmental impact doesn’t mean more happiness

No country achieved a “good” score on all three components of the HPI. The HPI leaders are countries that are able to provide a standard of health and wellbeing while limiting the average per capita carbon footprint. Sometimes, countries that have the same levels of environmental impact can vary hugely in terms of the outcomes of long and happy lives. 

For example, Botswana and the Netherlands both have a carbon footprint of around 10.2 tonnes.  However, the Netherlands achieves an adjusted happy life years score of 79.2 years, whilst Botswana only achieves 39.1 years.   

Carbon inequality: Bad deal for people and the planet 

Countries with high average per capita carbon footprints generally do not score well on the HPI, the report found. Increased resource use does not equal increased health and wellbeing. 

The report has also looked at HPI scores across income brackets within select countries. Within most countries, the wealthiest citizens score the worst on the HPI. Their much higher carbon emissions do not translate into much higher wellbeing. For example, in the USA, the richest 10% of the population has an average carbon footprint of 68.7 tonnes CO2e per capita (which is four times higher than the average for the rest of the population), although wellbeing outcomes are only marginally better for that group. 

Economic inequalities not only keep the wellbeing of the poorest suppressed, they also bring the overall HPIs of countries down. The lifestyles of the wealthiest contribute disproportionately to carbon emissions, but they make little positive contribution to their wellbeing. Taking the example of countries like Vanuatu, the report concluded that “good lives that don’t cost the Earth are within reach”.

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