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Vietnam fifth in Happy Planet Index

Released at: 17:51, 13/01/2018

Vietnam fifth in Happy Planet Index

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Costa Rica tops Index from UK-based socioeconomic research institution the New Economics Foundation.

by Nghi Do

Vietnam has ranked fifth globally in the Happy Planet Index (HPI), complied by UK-based socioeconomic research institution the New Economics Foundation, and second in the Asia-Pacific region. 

Characterized by its mountains and tropical forests, the country has a strikingly low ecological footprint and economic output per head almost 24 times smaller than nearby Hong Kong.

Vietnam is one of just three countries in the top ten of the HPI rankings with an ecological footprint small enough to be considered environmentally sustainable.

What’s working well in Vietnam?

While wellbeing in the country is more modest than others in the top ten of the HPI rankings, its average wellbeing score is still higher than Hong Kong’s, despite its economy being significantly smaller and its ecological footprint being less than one-fifth of the size of Hong Kong’s.

Vietnam has an impressive average life expectancy. Both Vietnam and The Gambia have similar-sized economies with similar levels of GDP per capita, but on average, people from Vietnam live more than 17 years longer.

Its inequality of outcomes rating, which measures inequality in wellbeing and life expectancy within the country, is better than that of the top country in the HPI, Costa Rica, testament to Vietnam’s robust public service provision. School enrolment is among the highest in the world, at 98 per cent in 2012, and the number of colleges and universities continues to grow rapidly.

Vietnam is on a steep development trajectory. The country has been hailed as a global poster child for poverty reduction, with the number of people living in poverty falling from 58 per cent in 1993 to 10.7 per cent in 2010.

What’s not working?

Though sustainable today, as Vietnam’s economy has grown its ecological footprint has also been rising steeply. With the current government having set its sights on rapid economic growth between now and 2020, Vietnam faces important choices about its future. An industry-led development path similar to its richer neighbor, Malaysia, would likely see a massive increase in its per capita ecological footprint; bad news for sustainability in the region.

The Happy Planet Index measures what matters: sustainable wellbeing for all. It tells how well nations are doing at achieving long, happy, sustainable lives.

Wealthy Western countries, often seen as the standard of success, do not rank highly on the HPI. Rather, several countries in Latin America and the Asia Pacific lead the way, by achieving high life expectancy and wellbeing with much smaller ecological footprints.

The Happy Planet Index provides a compass to guide nations and shows that it is possible to live good lives without ruining the Earth.

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