Sustainable nations: What do aggregate indexes tell us? Environment, development and sustainability

R. Pillarisetti, J.C.J.M. van den Bergh

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What is a 'sustainable nation' and how can we identify and rank 'sustainable nations?' Are nations producing and consuming in a sustainable way? Although several aggregate indexes have been proposed to answer such questions, comprehensive and internationally comparable data are not available for most of these. This paper quantitatively compares three aggregate indexes of sustainability: the World Bank's 'Genuine Savings' measure, the 'Ecological Footprint,' and the 'Environmental Sustainability Index.' These three indexes are available for a large number of countries and also seem to be the most influential among the aggregate indexes. This paper first discusses the main limitations and weaknesses of each of these indexes. Subsequently, it shows that rankings of sustainable nations and aggregate assessments of unsustainable world population and world GDP shares vary considerably among these indexes. This disagreement leads to suggestions for analysis and policy. One important insight is that climate change, arguable the most serious threat currently faced by humanity, is not or arbitrarily captured by the indexes. © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-62
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironment, Development and Sustainability
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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