Nationmaster is a terrific resource for world statistics and country comparisons. I was interested to compare energy use with living standards. Is it possible to maintain a decent quality of life with low per capita energy consumption? Which nations are leading by that measure?

Here’s a scatterplot of primary energy consumption per capita vs. the Human Development Index (a combination of life expectancy, literacy, education, and GDP-based standards of living).

I tend to give the HDI axis a bit more weight. The best performer, then, is Portugal. Argentina and Chile are close with lower energy consumption but also lower HDI.

Following those is a tight group of developed nations with higher per capita energy consumption and higher HDI: Greece, Italy, Denmark, Ireland, Spain, UK, Switzerland, Japan and Germany.

In the category of very low per capita energy consumption, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador and Philippines rate the best. Brazil and Mexico also do well.

Another question along these lines would be, “Is it possible to maintain a decent quality of life with low per capita fossil fuel consumption?” In that case we would differentiate between fossil fuels and other energy sources that have a relatively small effect on global warming, like nuclear, hydro, biomass and other renewables. One way to measure that is by CO2 emissions per capita.


This chart shows the comparison between CO2 emissions per capita and the Human Development Index. Uruguay and Costa Rica are the best performers. The other top performing countries can be approximately classified into tiers:

High (6-7 tons) emissions: Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal.

Medium (2-4 tons) emissions: Argentina, Lithuania, Chile, Latvia, Cuba, Panama, Brazil.

Low (0-2 tons) emissions: Sri Lanka, Paraguay, Philippines, Peru, Armenia, Albania, Columbia.

All figures are for 2003, so this is a snapshot of a single year. A better chart would show averages of, say, a recent 5-year period.

I’ve left out the small island nations for the sake of simplicity. The United States, of course, is at the extreme far end of the chart with 20 tons CO2 per person.