It is impossible for humans to live both a ‘good’ life and an environmentally friendly one, researchers have found.
Scientists compared the ability of countries to meet 11 social goals for their citizens against how they measured up to seven environmental targets.
The study found that no country has managed to achieve the right balance between happiness and sustainability, and that the better a country does on one side of the scale, the worse it tends to do on the other.
No country on earth currently manages to provide a good life for its citizens in a sustainable way, researchers say, though Vietnam comes closest
While the Netherlands was among three countries to achieve the best lives for its people, it failed on six out of seven environmental targets
Of all 151 nations studied Vietnam came closest to achieving balance, hitting seven of 11 social goals while only exceeding one environmental limit on CO2 emissions.
Three nations – Austria, Germany and the Netherlands – maxed out the social targets, but fell way behind when it came to the environmental goals.
Meanwhile Afghanistan, Burundi, and Eritrea were among 16 countries to pass every environmental test, but failed miserably when it came to providing for their people.
The worst country on both lists was Swaziland, which failed both to provide a good quality of life and to hit environmental targets.
Social goals identified by researchers included earning more than $1.90 (£1.30) per day, access to energy, access to food, and employment.
Researchers measured countries against 11 social measures including earning potential, access to energy and education level. Countries that met the most targets are coloured dark blue, while countries that met the least are in white
Countries were then measured against environmental targets. Those that violated the least are in green, while those that violated the most are white. Together, the maps show that the better a country provides for its citizens, the more likely it is to harm the planet
Meanwhile environmental targets included water usage, carbon emissions and whether land was being used in a sustainable way.
In terms of social goals the UK was among the best-ranked, hitting eight out of 11 targets and missing out on two by small margins. The United States achieves nine, as does Australia.
But the UK busts on five out of seven environmental measures, getting passing grades only in land usage and water consumption.
America misses all environmental targets – including having CO2 emissions at 13 times sustainable rates – and Australia breaches six.
America met nine out of 11 social goals, but busted on every single environmental measure, including having carbon dioxide emissions at 13 times the sustainable level
The UK met eight out of 11 social targets, narrowly missing out on two more, but failed to meet five out of seven environmental targets
The study was carried out by the Sustainability Research Institute at University of Leeds in England and the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change in Berlin.
Co-author Dr Julia Steinberger, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, said: ‘Radical changes are needed if all people are to live well within the limits of the planet.
‘These include moving beyond the pursuit of economic growth in wealthy nations, shifting rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and significantly reducing inequality.
‘Our physical infrastructure and the way we distribute resources are both part of what we call provisioning systems.
‘If all people are to lead a good life within the planet’s limits then these provisioning systems need to be fundamentally restructured to allow for basic needs to be met at a much lower level of resource use.’