Secretary-General, in Message to Meeting on ‘Happiness and Well-being’ Calls for ‘Rio+20’ Outcome that Measures More than Gross National Income

2 April 2012
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Secretary-General, in Message to Meeting on ‘Happiness and Well-being’ Calls

for ‘ Rio+20’ Outcome that Measures More than Gross National Income

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks at the High-level Meeting on “Happiness and Well-being:  Defining a New Economic Paradigm”, in New York on 2 April:

I commend the Government of Bhutan for initiating this important debate on the link between happiness, well-being and prosperity.

Earlier this year, I received the final report of my Global Sustainability Panel.  Among its 56 recommendations was the importance of establishing a Sustainable Development Index, or a set of indicators to measure progress towards sustainable development.  The Panel noted that, while material prosperity is important, it is far from being the only determinant of well-being.

Such thinking dates back to the earliest times.  It can be found, for example, in the teachings of the Buddha and Aristotle.  More recently, measuring success by wealth alone has been questioned in the groundbreaking Brundtland Report of 1987, the Human Development Index and the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, established by President [Nicolas] Sarkozy of France.

Bhutan has recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s.  It has famously adopted the goal of gross national happiness over gross national product (GNP).  Such thinking is now gaining ground in other regions.

Costa Rica is well-known for being the greenest country in the world — an example of holistic and environmentally responsible development.  Compared to other countries with similar income levels, it ranks higher in human development and is a beacon of peace and democracy.  In the United Kingdom, statistical authorities are experimenting with “National Well-being”.  The European Commission has its “GDP and Beyond” project.  And the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has its guidelines of measurement of well-being.

GNP has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured.  Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress.  We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development.  Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible.  Together they define gross global happiness.

There are now fewer than 75 days to the “ Rio+20” Conference on Sustainable Development.  Sustainable development is one of the top priorities for my second term.  The world stands at a crossroads.  We need everyone — Government Ministers and policymakers, business and civil society leaders, and young people — to work together to transform our economies, to place our societies on a more just and equitable footing, and to protect the resources and ecosystems on which our shared future depends.

Connecting the dots between these issues — between water, food and energy security, climate change, urbanization, poverty, inequality and the empowerment of the world’s women — lies at the heart of sustainable development.  But, it will take resolute will from all sectors of society.  Sustainable development recognizes that our economic, social and environmental objectives are not competing goals that must be traded off against each other, but are interconnected objectives that are most effectively pursued together in a holistic manner.

We need an outcome from Rio+20 that reflects this.  An outcome that says that happiness and well-being are measured in more than gross national income — and that they are fundamental goals in themselves.

I thank the Government of Bhutan, and the Prime Minister, for convening this meeting, and I wish you a most productive debate.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.