Broken societies put people and planet on collision course, says UNDP

An experimental global index offers a new measurement of human progress that illustrates the challenge of tackling poverty and inequality while easing planetary pressure.

New York, 15 December 2020– The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis facing the world, but unless humans release their grip on nature, it won’t be the last, according to a new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which includes a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.

The report lays out a stark choice for world leaders – take bold steps to reduce the immense pressure that is being exerted on the environment and the natural world, or humanity’s progress will stall.

“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, record breaking temperatures and spiraling inequality, it is time to use that power to redefine what we mean by progress, where our carbon and consumption footprints are no longer hidden,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.
“As this report shows, no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet. But we could be the first generation to right this wrong. That is the next frontier for human development,” he said.

HDR Intro

The report argues that as people and planet enter an entirely new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, it is time to for all countries to redesign their paths to progress by fully accounting for the dangerous pressures humans put on the planet, anddismantle the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that prevent change. To illustrate the point, the 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene, introduces an experimental new lens to its annual Human Development Index (HDI).By adjusting the HDI, which measures a nation’s health, education, and standards of living, to include two more elements: a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint, the  index shows how the global development landscape would change if both the wellbeing of people and also the planet were central to defining humanity’s progress.

With the resulting Planetary-Pressures Adjusted HDI – or PHDI – a new global picture emerges, painting a less rosy but clearer assessment of human progress. For example, more than 50 countries drop out of the very high human development group, reflecting their dependence on fossil fuels and material footprint.

Despite these adjustments, countries like Costa Rica, Moldova, and Panama move upwards by at least 30 places, recognizing that lighter pressure on the planet is possible. “The Human Development Report is an important product by the United Nations. In a time where action is needed, the new generation of Human Development Reports, with greateremphasis on the defining issues of our time such as climate change and inequalities, helps us to steer our efforts towards the future we want,” said Stefan Löfven, Prime Minister of Sweden, host country of the launch of the report. The next frontier for human development will require working with and not against nature, while transforming social norms, values, and government and financial incentives, the report argues.

For example, new estimates project that by 2100 the poorest countries in the world could experience up to 100 more days of extreme weather due to climate change each year- a number that could be cut in half if the Paris Agreement on climate change is fully implemented.

And yet fossil fuels are still being subsidized: the full cost to societies of publicly financed subsidies for fossil fuels – including indirect costs – is estimated at over US$5 trillion a year, or 6.5 percent of global GDP, according to International Monetary Fund figures cited in the report. Reforestation and taking better care of forests could alone account for roughly a quarter of the pre-2030 actions we must take to stop global warming from reaching two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

“While humanity has achieved incredible things, it is clear that we have taken our planet for granted,” said Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy Youth. “Across the world young people have spoken up, recognizing that these actions put our collective future at risk. As the 2020 Human Development Report makes clear, we need to transform our relationship with the planet — to make energy and material consumption sustainable, and to
ensure every young person is educated and empowered to appreciate the wonders that a healthy world can provide.” How people experience planetary pressures is tied to how societies work, says Pedro Conceição, Director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office and lead author of the report, and today, broken societies are putting people and planet on a collision course.

Inequalities within and between countries, with deep roots in colonialism and racism, mean that people who have more capture the benefits of nature and export the costs, the report shows. This chokes opportunities for people who have less and minimizes their ability to do anything about it.

For example, land stewarded by indigenous peoples in the Amazon absorbs, on a per person basis, the equivalent carbon dioxide of that emitted by the richest 1 percent of people in the world. However, indigenous peoples continue to face hardship, persecution and discrimination, and have little voice in decision-making, according to the report.

And discrimination based on ethnicity frequently leaves communities severely affected and exposed to high environmental risks such as toxic waste or excessive pollution, a trend that is reproduced in urban areas across continents, argue the authors. According to the report, easing planetary pressures in a way that enables all people to flourish in this new age requires dismantling the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that stand in the way of transformation.

Public action, the report argues, can address these inequalities, with examples ranging from increasingly progressive taxation, to protecting coastal communities through preventive investment and insurance, a move that could safeguard the lives of 840 million people who live along the world’s low elevation coastlines. But there must be a concerted effort to ensure that actions do not further pit people against planet.

“The next frontier for human development is not about choosing between people or trees; it’s about recognizing, today, that human progress driven by unequal, carbon-intensive growth has run its course,” said Pedro Conceição. “By tackling inequality, capitalizing on innovation and working with nature, human development could take a transformational step forward to support societies and the planet together,” he said.

To learn more about the 2020 Human Development report and UNDP’s analysis on the experimental Planetary Pressures-Adjusted HDI, visit http://hdr.undp.org/en/2020-report.


Update on the 2020 Human Development Report Launch Events and Presentations
Since the Global Launch on December 15of last year, the 2020 Human Development Report (HDR) hastriggered relevant dialogue in all regions of the world on the relationships between people and the planet and how our impact on the Earth interacts with inequalities across societies.
The theme and findings of 2020 HDR were at the heart of UNDP’s discussions with key partner organizations.
On January 21, Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, and Mari Pangestu, World Bank Managing Director of Development Policy and Partnerships, led a conversation on the key building blocks identified in the report as fundamental for people and the planet to prosper together.
UNDP’s engagement with the World Bank concluded with the Administrator’s presentation on the HDR to the World Bank Board.
“Social and planetary imbalances are […] two sides of the same coin and they reinforce each other, so investments, regulations, and policies that are blind to one or the other will ultimately run the risk of failure,” Steiner noted during these dialogues.
Finally, on March 8, UNDP and the European Commission jointly organized a conversation on the theme, “Rethinking human development and transforming our relationship with the planet.” Featuring Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, Jutta Urpilainen, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, and a panel of experts, the event delved into the kind of transformative action needed if we are to live in balance with the planet in a fairer world.
The Report also garnered high levels of interest from the scientific community.
On January 29, the key findings of the HDR was presented at the Nobel Summit Webinar, whichfocused on the role that global scientific collaboration plays in addressing pressing issues at the intersection of Science, Society, and Development. Organized by the National Academy of Sciences, the event featured Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO; and Pedro Conceição, HDRO Director.
The conversation around the 2020 HDR also took place elsewhere around the globe through UNDP’s extensive network.
On December 17, theEurope and Central Asia regional launchof the report took place with a special focus on the HDR’s implications for the Western Balkans, Turkey, and the countries of Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus. The event featured Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator, Stevo Pendarovski, president of North Macedonia, and leading human development practitioners from the region.
“We fully support the European Green Deal and are ready to contribute to the transformation of Europe into the first continent with decarbonised economies by 2050,” said Pendarovski at the launch.
On January 13, the Report was launched at theregional level during the 12th Ministerial Forum for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Co-hosted by UNDP and the Government of Colombia, the regional launch featured Ivan Duque, President of Colombia; and Laura Chinchilla, former President of Costa Rica.
“The environment should not be seen as a cost. The environment is not an accessory. The environment is inherent to the development agenda,” said Duque at the Forum.
On January 27, the Administrator joined Meryame Kitir, Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation for the Brussels launch of the Report. The event served as an occasion to discuss ways to transform pathways to human progress and unpack the key findings of the report from the Belgian perspective.
“The time has come when the damaging consequences become clear of how we people act, how we people behave, of whom we people have actually become throughout the past century,” said Kitir.
Then on February 12, UNDP, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and SDG Netherlands jointly hosted the Dutch national launch. Featuring remarks by Kitty van der Heijden, Director General for International Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands; and Ulrika Modéer, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP Bureau for External Relations and Advocacy, as well as an expert panel discussion and a Q&A segment with audience, the event examined the relationships between people and the planet and how our impact on the Earth interacts with inequalities across societies, while also discussing its implications for the Netherlands.
In addition, more than 60 events and presentations have been organized by other UNDP Country and Representation Offices around the world. Some of the most recent ones includeKenya, Uganda, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, Libya, Turkey, Moldova, Mongolia, Brazil, Jamaica the Republic of Korea, Norway and Finland also organized launch events.