On the same day as the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report launch, newspaper headlines about the latest World Happiness Report celebrate Finland’s ranking as the world’s happiest country for six years running (see for example, CNN or Bloomberg). Well done Finns – their success is a result of many factors, including a strong economy, stable democratic institutions and solid social capital. But it also has a price: according to the Global Carbon Atlas, Finland’s CO2 emissions in 2020 amounted to 8.7 tonnes per capita – well over the 3.4 tonnes per capita target for 2030, and considerably higher than many other countries shown in the graph below.
Of course, Finland is not alone – all wealthy countries are emitting far more CO2 than is acceptable if we are to keep the global temperature rise to less than 1.5°. At least Finland is converting that high consumption into good lives – for example the USA’s per capita emissions are almost twice as high, and yet subjective wellbeing there is significantly lower.
But, rather than celebrating the happy Finns, perhaps this year we should be looking more towards places like Costa Rica. According to the World Happiness Report, Costa Rica is not as successful as Finland (it only ranks 23rd out of 137 countries). But it achieves this with per capita carbon emissions of only 2.2 tonnes per capita – in other words, one-quarter of those of Finland. In ranking the happiest countries in the world, should we maybe be disqualifying those that are producing more than their fair share of CO2 emissions? When you do that (based on the 2030 target) Costa Rica comes top, followed by Uruguay and Mexico. Of course, these countries have their own problems, but looking at the data this way presents a very different picture of what counts as success.
Next year we’ll be publishing the sixth edition of the Happy Planet Index, which ranks countries according to the ecological efficiency with which they achieve long happy lives. The Happy Planet Index serves as a compass to remind us that the aim of societies should not just be good lives now, but also good lives for future generations.
CO2 per capita data sourced from the Global Carbon Atlas (www.globalcarbonatlas.org);
Subjective wellbeing from Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., Sachs, J. D., De Neve, J.-E., Aknin, L. B., & Wang, S. (Eds.). (2023). World Happiness Report 2023. New York: Sustainable Development Solutions Network.