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: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released its 30th anniversary Human Development Report for 2020 titled “The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene”.
According to the report 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. The report includes a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.
“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.”
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 pressure humans put on the planet, and dismantle the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that prevent change.
To illustrate the point, the report 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.
According to 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.