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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Studying at Cambridge

Roxanne Pieterse

The HDI-Footprint Framework: Exploring the Implications for Sustainable Development
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.