Human Development Report Calls for Inclusive, Sustainable Development

November 25, 2011

By Ethical Markets.Com

Norway, Australia, and the Netherlands lead the world in the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI), while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger, and Burundi are at the bottom of the Human Development Report’s annual rankings of national achievement in health, education, and income, released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Rich Get Richer…

The United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany, and Sweden round out the top 10 countries in the 2011 HDI, but when the Index is adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education, and income, some of the wealthiest nations drop out of the HDI’s top 20: the United States falls from #4 to #23, the Republic of Korea from #15 to #32, and Israel from #17 to #25.

The United States and Israel drop in the report’s Inequality-adjusted HDI (IHDI) mainly because of income inequality, though health care is also a factor in the U.S. ranking change, while wide education gaps between generations detract from the Republic of Korea’s IHDI performance.

Other top national achievers rise in the IHDI due to greater relative internal equalities in health, education, and income: Sweden jumps from #10 to #5, Denmark climbs from #16 to #12, and Slovenia rises from #21 to #14.

The 2011 report — Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All — notes that income distribution has worsened in most of the world, with Latin America remaining the most unequal region in income terms, though several countries including Brazil and Chile are narrowing income gaps. Yet in overall IHDI terms, including life expectancy and schooling, Latin America is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.

…and the Poor Get Poorer

The report also found that development progress in the world’s poorest countries could be halted or even reversed by mid-century unless bold steps are taken now to slow climate change, prevent further environmental damage, and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations. It argues that environmental sustainability can be most fairly and effectively achieved by addressing health, education, income, and gender disparities together with the need for global action on energy production and ecosystem protection.

The report was launched in Copenhagen today by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, whose new government has pledged to reduce Denmark’s CO2 emissions by a dramatic 40 percent over the next 10 years.

As the world community prepares for the landmark UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, the report argues that sustainability must be approached as a matter of basic social justice, for current and future generations alike.

Climate Change Impacts Us All

“Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as this Report so persuasively argues,” Helen Clark says in the foreword. “It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives, with an awareness that everything we do has consequences for the seven billions of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come.”

UNDP has commissioned the editorially independent Human Development Reports annually since 1990, when its Human Development Index (HDI), a composite measure of health, education, and income, first challenged purely economic measures of national achievement and called for consistent global tracking of progress in overall living standards.

From 1970-2010 the countries in the lowest 25 percent of the HDI rankings improved their overall HDI achievement by a remarkable 82 percent, twice the global average. If the pace of improvement over the past 40 years were to continue for the next 40, the great majority of countries would achieve HDI levels by 2050 equal to or better than those now enjoyed only by the top 25 percent in today’s HDI rankings, the report notes—an extraordinary achievement for human development globally in less than a century.

Yet because of escalating environmental hazards, these positive trends may instead be abruptly halted by mid-century, the report contends, noting that people in the poorest countries are disproportionately at risk from climate-driven disasters such as drought and flooding and exposure to air and water pollution.

Gap Widens

Despite the human development progress of recent years, income distribution has worsened, grave gender imbalances still persist, and accelerating environmental destruction puts a “double burden of deprivation” on the poorest households and communities, the report says. Half of all malnutrition worldwide is attributable to environmental factors, such as water pollution and drought-driven scarcity, perpetuating a vicious cycle of impoverishment and ecological damage.

High living standards need not be carbon-fueled and follow the examples of the richest countries, the report says, presenting evidence that while CO2 emissions have been closely linked with national income growth in recent decades, fossil-fuel consumption does not correspond with other key measures of human development, such as life expectancy and education.

The report calls for electricity service to be provided to the 1.5 billion people who are now off the power grid—and says that this can be done both affordably and sustainably, without a significant rise in carbon emissions. This new UN-backed “Universal Energy Access Initiative” could be achieved with investments of about one-eighth of the amount currently spent on fossils fuel subsidies, estimated at US$312 billion worldwide in 2009. Φ

Ethicalmarkets.com is a project spearheaded by radical economist Hazel Henderson.

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