How to improve environmental quality and achieve human development remains major sustainability issues,
particularly in the MENA region (the Middle East and North Africa). Most of the empirical literature fails to
consider human well-being and environmental quality together although these concepts are fundamentally
similar in their concern for distributive justice. This inquiry uses panel data for 13 MENA countries over the
period 1990–2016 to examine the association between human development and ecological footprint and test
whether trade-off nexus holds between these two sustainability-based indicators. To increase the policy relevance
of this inquiry, the MENA region is divided into two sub-groups of countries: seven oil exporting countries
and six non-oil exporting countries. The highlights pointed out the presence of a strong trade-off between the
ecological footprint and human well-being captured by human development index for the whole sample and
across the two subsamples. The crucial role played by economic institutions may help the MENA countries to
mitigate the trade-offs to achieve simultaneously both targets of human well-being and environmental protection.
Our empirical insights have important implications for achieving human development sustainability
through the pursuit of the individual SDG targets.