Database of human well-being and eco-sustainability under planetary pressures of the Belt and Road 1990–2018

Starting from the ultimate goal of sustainable development, we constructed a consumption–pressure–output–efficiency database. It covers 61 B&R countries, B&R regional average and global average from 1990-2018, and can be used for further research on sustainable development and others of B&R.
Database of human well-being and  eco-sustainability under planetary  pressures of the Belt and Road  1990–2018

Launching this database is not only insightful research into the Belt and Road Initiative but also a positive contribution to the global sustainable development agenda.”


Why did we build dataset?

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road or B&R), which was proposed by China in 2013, is such a typical and representative form of regional cooperation, and almost a miniature version of the world. B&R Initiative considered closely aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and could have a huge global impact 1,2. Due to the main portion of the B&R being located in arid or semi-arid areas or sub-humid ecologically fragile zones, with the sensitive, fragile and weak self-recovery ability of the eco-environment, its response to intensified global climate change and human activities will become more sensitive3,4. Thus, its sustainable development issues have attracted worldwide attention2,5.

Sustainable development was defined by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” in 19876. With a deeper understanding about it, the ultimate goal of sustainable development is, within the ecological limitations, to expand human’s developmental potential to maximize human well-being with the smallest ecological consumption, to maximize the efficiency of resource conversion while easing the planetary pressures7-9. It makes sense to define the subject of sustainability as a relationship among economic, social, and ecological systems, including economic society in the drivers of ecosystem change, and apply it to a geographical scale10.

For the evaluation of sustainable development, many methods have been developed, and can be generally divided into two categories, namely index system and indicators method11. However, there are also some deficiencies in these existing methods. For instance, the index system method, either lacks a unified index selection standard, leading to inconsistent indexes selected by different studies and limiting the comparison between researches, or the index number is too much and complicated, resulting in difficulties in data acquisition and processing and lacking the consideration of interaction and influence relationship among indicators12,13. The indicator method, either often does not cover all the dimensions of society, economy and environment (such as single indicators, EF focuses only on the environmental dimension and does not include the economic and social dimension14,15, HDI does not consider environmental factors and intergenerational inequality16,17, leading to the evaluation results are not comprehensive enough owing to the different emphases of each method15), or often covers up certain problems, for it is rarely clear or transparent8 (such as the composite indicator, EWP can show the rate of conversion of ecological consumption into human well-being, but cannot directly show the true level of well-being18,19).

It is clear that we cannot rely on a single index or measure to obtain the comprehensive evaluation result of sustainable development, not to mention in the B&R regions, which lacks uniform available database resources.

Sustainable Development database

According to Human Development Report 2020 (HDR 2020) that reductions in the flows of greenhouse gases and more efficient material use would eventually reflect the outcomes of the broader economic and societal transformation to ease planetary pressures, and carbon dioxide emissions (CDE) per capita and material footprint (MF) per capita from human activity can be used to represent the planetary pressures8. Thus, starting from the logic of the ultimate goal of sustainable development, we constructed a comprehensive evaluation method on sustainable development, namely a consumption–pressure–output–efficiency (CPOE) method11, and a database, by combining the index system idea and four composite indicators. That is, in the context of ecological limitation [represented by biocapacity (BC)], to respectively measure how much ecological consumption is generated by human development (by Ecological Footprint, EF), how much planetary pressure is caused by ecological consumption [by the index of planetary pressures (P), which is obtained from CDE and MF], how much human well-being is produced by ecological consumption under planetary pressures [by planetary pressures–adjusted Human Development Index (PHDI) , which extends the Human Development Index (HDI) by taking good account of environmental factors (CDE per capita, to illustrate the transition of energy away from fossil fuels) and intergenerational inequality (MF per capita, to illustrate the challenges of closing material cycles) to measure human well-being under planetary pressures8, and how much the conversion efficiency of ecological consumption into human well-being [by an Ecological Well-being Performance (EWP) index adjusted by PHDI (AEWP)]. The framework can determine whether contemporary human economic and social activities in the face of planetary pressures exceed the ecological carrying capacity (determined by comparing EF and BC), which reflects “sustainability”, whether the level of well-being under planetary pressures is increasing (determined by PHDI), which reflects “development”, and finally how efficient the transition to sustainable development is through AEWP. Thus, it formed a logical system and index that covers both sustainability (consumption and pressure) and development (output and efficiency) (Fig. 1), not only combining the advantages of existing evaluation methods, but also making up for their shortcomings, and all data are available by acquisition or calculation.

Fig. 1 The construction of sustainable development database in B&R.

We have also detailed the application of the CPOE method to a comprehensive evaluation on sustainable development in the B&R regions. Please see the paper “Comprehensive evaluation on sustainable development based on planetary pressures and ecological well-being performance: A case study on the belt and road regions” published in Journal of Cleaner Production (

Data record and access

Based on the data of our previous studies11, we have expanded the data again, mainly by updating the latest corrected data on the official website and extending the time year from the original 1990-2017 to 1990-2018. In our latest paper published in Scientific data, we have created a CPOE database, which contains 29,621 data records for comprehensive evaluation on sustainable development of B&R. It includes not only four core datasets, but also one related dataset. This database covers 61 B&R countries, B&R regional average and global average from 1990-2018, and can be used for further research on sustainable development and others of B&R.

The creation of the  database was a lengthy process that lasted the team more than six months to complete. We invested considerable effort in pre-processing the data, such as avoiding zero values and correcting data from different years to uncover any underlying causes, and resolved these issues in line with relevant studies and technical notes. In addition, missing data supplements and new data formation were validated by comparing results with other relevant studies, correlation analysis and fitting the raw data to ensure the accuracy and reliability of our estimates.

Overall, our database is a valuable resource for policymakers and researchers concerned with sustainable development in the B&R or others of B&R and globally. All these datasets are open to the public in the Figshare repository (


  • We will explore the data for more countries to construct a more comprehensive database of B&R, and even global.
  •  We should try to expand the data’s time span to provide longer time series data to promote more in-depth research. For example, we can calculate as much pre-1990 HDI data as possible according to the HDI calculation methodology.
  •  We can work on a more comprehensive quantitative indicator based on the CPOE idea and produce the corresponding database, to promote sustainability research furtherly.


  1. Zhang, N., Liu, Z., Zheng, X. & Xue, J. Carbon footprint of China's belt and road. Science 357, 1107-1107 (2017).
  2. Yin, W. Integrating Sustainable Development Goals into the Belt and Road Initiative: would it be a new model for green and sustainable investment? Sustainability 11, 6991 (2019).
  3. Zhang, D. et al. Ecology and environment of the Belt and Road under global climate change: A systematic review of spatial patterns, cost efficiency, and ecological footprints. Ecological Indicators 131, 108237 (2021).
  4. Ascensão, F. et al. Environmental challenges for the Belt and Road Initiative. Nature Sustainability 1 (2018).
  5. Zhang, D. et al. Looking for ecological sustainability: A dynamic evaluation and prediction on the ecological environment of the belt and road region. Sustainable Production and Consumption 32, 851-862 (2022).
  6. WCED. Our common future. (Oxford University Press,1987).
  7. Moran, D. D., Wackernagel, M., Kitzes, J. A., Goldfinger, S. T. & Boutaud, A. Measuring sustainable development—Nation by nation. Ecological. Econmics 64, 470-474 (2008).
  8. UNDP (United Nation Development Programme). Human Development Report 2020: The Next Frontier-Human Development and the Anthropocene. Accessed July 23, 2021.
  9. Griggs, D. et al. Sustainable development goals for people and planet. Nature 495, 305-307 (2013).
  10. Ruggerio, C. A. Sustainability and sustainable development: A review of principles and definitions. Science of The Total Environment 786, 147481 (2021).
  11. Zhang, D. et al. Comprehensive evaluation on sustainable development based on planetary pressures and ecological well-being performance: A case study on the belt and road regions. Journal of Cleaner Production 376, 134211 (2022).
  12. Shuai, C. et al. Principal indicators to monitor sustainable development goals. Environmental Research Letters 16, 124015 (2021).
  13. Wu, X. et al. Decoupling of SDGs followed by re-coupling as sustainable development progresses. Nature Sustainability 5, 452-459 (2022).
  14. Kitzes, J., Peller, A., Goldfinger, S. & Wackernagel, M. Current methods for calculating national ecological footprint accounts. Science for environment & sustainable society 4, 1-9 (2007).
  15. Lucia, U., Fino, D. & Grisolia, G. A thermoeconomic indicator for the sustainable development with social considerations A thermoeconomy for sustainable society. Environment Development and Sustainability 24, 2022-2036 (2021).
  16. Bravo, G. The Human Sustainable Development Index: New calculations and a first critical analysis. Ecological Indicators 37, 145-150 (2014).
  17. Biggeri, M. & Mauro, V. Towards a more ‘sustainable’human development index: Integrating the environment and freedom. Ecological indicators 91, 220-231 (2018).
  18. Zhang, S., Zhu, D., Shi, Q. & Cheng, M. Which countries are more ecologically efficient in improving human well-being? An application of the Index of Ecological Well-being Performance. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 129, 112-119 (2018).
  19. Frugoli, P. A., Almeida, C. M. V. B., Agostinho, F., Giannetti, B. F. & Huisingh, D. Can measures of well-being and progress help societies to achieve sustainable development? Journal of Cleaner Production 90, 370-380 (2015).

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