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The disconnect between indicators of sustainability and human development


  • Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva

    () (Regional Bureau for Africa at UNDP)

  • Isabel Pereira

    () (Human Development Report Office, UNDP)


This paper presents an initial review of the theoretical and measurement discussions of sustainability and its relation to human development. As we show in this paper, there is an overall consensus about the importance of sustaining development and well-being over time, but in reality different development paradigms lead to different definitions and measures of sustainability. We review some of those measures, among which the Adjusted Net Savings (a green national accounting measure calculated by the World Bank and rooted in a weak concept of sustainability), the Ecological Footprint (calculated by the Global Footprint Network and rooted in a strong concept of sustainability, where environment is considered a critical resource), and the carbon dioxide emissions (a simple environmental indicator, used in international debate of climate change). Our analysis shows conflicting conclusions when studying the correlations between these indicators of sustainability and existing human development indicators, namely HDI, which emphasizes the need for further analysis to understand what “sustainable human development” means. Nevertheless, as we show here, over time there has been a close link between higher economic performance and energy consumption, which has been mostly based in the use of fossil fuels.

Suggested Citation

  • Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva & Isabel Pereira, 2010. "The disconnect between indicators of sustainability and human development," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2010-34, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
  • Handle: RePEc:hdr:papers:hdrp-2010-34

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Barro, Robert J. & Lee, Jong Wha, 2013. "A new data set of educational attainment in the world, 1950–2010," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 104(C), pages 184-198.
    2. Zhou, P. & Ang, B.W. & Poh, K.L., 2007. "A mathematical programming approach to constructing composite indicators," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 291-297, April.
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    Cited by:

    1. David Mayer-Foulkes, 2013. "A Cross-country Causal Panorama of Human Development and Sustainability," Review of Development Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 17(2), pages 235-251, May.
    2. Rui Fragoso & Vladimir Bushenkov & Carlos Marques, 2012. "Integrated Water Management Using Feasible Goals Method and Interactive Decision Maps: The Case of Odivelas Irrigation," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_07, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    3. Jorge Casas Novas & António Sousa & Maria do Céu Alves, 2012. "On the Relations Between Management Accounting Systems and Intellectual Capital. Evidence for Portuguese Companies," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_13, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    4. M.ª Maurícia Rosado & Carlos Marques & Rui Fragoso, 2012. "Environmental Evaluation and Benchmarking of Traditional Mediterranean Crop Farming System of Dryland Agriculture in the Alentejo Region of Portugal," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_14, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    5. Victor Mendes Santos, 2012. "The investor in warrants," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_19, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    6. Alfredo M. Pereira & Jorge M. Andraz, 2013. "On The Economic Effects Of Public Infrastructure Investment: A Survey Of The International Evidence," Journal of Economic Development, Chung-Ang Unviersity, Department of Economics, vol. 38(4), pages 1-37, December.
    7. Soumodip Sarkar, 2012. "Message in a bottle: process innovations in the cork stopper fightback," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_12, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    8. Elsa Vaz & José Belbute & António Caleiro & Gertrudes Guerreiro & Ana Eduardo, 2012. "Comparative Analysis of Regional Input-Output Matrices: the Portuguese case," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_08, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    9. repec:eme:reinzz:s1049-258520140000022011 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Gertrudes Saúde Guerreiro, 2014. "Regional Income Convergence in Portugal (1991–2002)," Research on Economic Inequality,in: Economic Well-Being and Inequality: Papers from the Fifth ECINEQ Meeting, volume 22, pages 351-381 Emerald Publishing Ltd.
    11. Paulo Ferreira & Andreia Dionísio, 2012. "An application of General Maximum Entropy to Utility," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_18, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    12. Paulo R. Silva & Elisabete G.S. Félix, 2012. "Challenges of the Information Economy: Asymmetry of Information in the Information Society," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_15, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    13. David Mayer-Foulkes, 2011. "A Causal Panorama of Cross-Country Human Development," DEGIT Conference Papers c016_049, DEGIT, Dynamics, Economic Growth, and International Trade.
    14. Rita Silva & Alexandra Ferreira Lopes, 2012. "A Regional Human Development Index for Portugal," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_05, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    15. Anabela Schinck & Soumodip Sarkar, 2012. "Financial Bootstrapping: a critical entrepreneurship skill," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_20, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    16. Jorge Andraz & Nélia Norte, 2012. "Structural Breaks and Volatility of Gross Domestic Product: Evidence for Portugal," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_09, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    17. Qihua Qiu & Jaesang Sung & Will Davis & Rusty Tchernis, 2017. "Using Spatial Factor Analysis to Measure Human Development," NBER Working Papers 23952, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    18. Rui Fragoso, 2012. "Sustainable Development and Guidance for Entrepreneurship in Unfavoured Regions: The Case of the Alentejo Region," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_21, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).
    19. Maria Jeus & Pedro Henriques & Pedro Laranjeira & Vanda Narciso & Maria Leonor da Silva Carvalho, 2012. "The impact of shifting cultivation in the forestry ecosystems of Timor-Leste," CEFAGE-UE Working Papers 2012_16, University of Evora, CEFAGE-UE (Portugal).

    More about this item


    sustainability; human development; measurement; energy.;

    JEL classification:

    • O13 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Agriculture; Natural Resources; Environment; Other Primary Products
    • Q56 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Environment and Development; Environment and Trade; Sustainability; Environmental Accounts and Accounting; Environmental Equity; Population Growth
    • Q59 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Other

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