|The HDI-Footprint Framework has become a popular illustration of the sustainable development challenge. It shows that most countries with high levels of human development have unsustainably large ecological footprints, whereas countries with small ecological footprints generally have low human development levels. If the goal of sustainable development is for all countries to have a high Human Development Index (HDI) and a sustainable ecological footprint (EF), it is necessary to have a better understanding of how HDI and EF are related.
In the first part of this research, multiple regression analysis with panel data for 134 countries from 1990-2011 was used to evaluate the impact of numerous variables on EF and the sub-components of HDI. The results show that both human development and resource use are positively correlated with several variables. Less-developed countries have succeeded in increasing education levels without increasing per capita EF, but no guaranteed ways of reducing EF without impacting HDI were identified. It was noted that some more-developed countries have managed to bring down consumption in recent years. Whether countries recognise ecological limits and commit human capital and financial resources to reducing EF appears to be strongly dependent on national context.
In the second part of this research, historical development and consumption trends in Cuba and Sri Lanka were analysed to understand how these countries managed to achieve high levels of human development with relatively small ecological footprints. It was found that these countries differ in many ways, but both succeeded in raising HDI by making a political commitment to universal social services provision. Both countries are also dependent on trade and have struggled find a balance between equality and economic growth.
Environmental sustainability has only recently become a genuine concern in Cuba and Sri Lanka, and EF has been steadily increasing in both countries over the last few years.
From these findings it is evident that new economic, political and social approaches to development are needed to separate human progress from the excessive consumption of resources. However, better models of HDI and EF are necessary to fully understand the complex relationship between development and consumption, and recommendations are made for further work.