24 November 2011

The purpose of good government is to provide a nation’s people with the environment for their optimum development.

In the run up to a general election, political parties debate environmental characteristics which suit their philosophy. In the New Zealand setting, there is frequent comparison made with other countries when promoting manifesto proposals. Seldom is there a full consideration of the total package in the jurisdictions being compared.

Earlier this month the UNDP released the International Human Development Report – which is published annually – together with the Human Development Index. These provide comparative material about the importance to human development of a healthy environment, of integrating social equity into environmental policies, and critically, of public participation and official accountability. It provides a non economic measurement of well being.

Norway is the clear leader on the Index. The continuing loss of New Zealanders to Australia can be explained by the social advantages underpinning Australia’s place as 2nd on the Index. New Zealand is ranked 5th despite an Inside New Zealand TV documentary on child poverty broadcast this week, indicating that child health is substantially inferior to Sweden – which ranks 10th on the Index. However, Netherlands and the United States have leap-frogged  New Zealand since the 2010 Index, when New Zealand ranked 3rd, after Norway and Australia.

The report notes that “…the HDI was created to emphasise that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone. The HDI can also be used to question national policy choices, asking how two countries with the same level of GNI per capita can end up with such different human development outcomes. For example, the Bahamas and New Zealand have similar levels of income per person, but life expectancy and expected years of schooling differ greatly between the two countries, resulting in New Zealand having a much higher HDI value than the Bahamas. These striking contrasts can stimulate debate about government policy priorities.”

African states have the poorest ratings of the 187 participants. Development in Pacific countries is generally more favourable although economic indicators are often quite similar.

UNDP Human Development Index 2011                                            Pacific states

1  Norway                                                                                                     49   Palau

2  Australia                                                                                                  90   Tonga

3  Netherlands                                                                                            99    Samoa

4  United States                                                                                        100   Fiji

5  New Zealand                                                                                         116    FS Micronesia

6  Canada                                                                                                   122   Kiribati

7  Ireland                                                                                                    125   Vanuatu

8  Lichenstein                                                                                           142   Solomon Islands

9  Germany                                                                                                147   Timor Leste

10  Sweden                                                                            (Nauru, Tuvalu and Marshall Islands not rated)