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2020 Human Development Report presented in Brussels in an event co-hosted by Meryame Kitir, Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation, in charge of Major Cities, and Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

 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 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), launched and discussed in Brussels in an event co-hosted by Meryame Kitir, Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation, in charge of Major Cities, and Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

“Over the past thirty years, our Human Development Reports have inspired new development thinking and influenced policies to put people at the center of development. We are delighted to discuss the findings of this anniversary edition in Belgium, a strong supporter of the UN and one of UNDP’s partners at core,” 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.

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.

“In the Anthropocene - more than ever - we will be judged on our common, global achievements. Our development as humans depends on what we people are able to achieve jointly. That is why I have instructed my administration to put in place a programme to help people in the Sahel fight desertification. And another programme in Central Africa to strengthen decent work and social protection mechanisms. Together worth almost EUR 100 million. I am doing it to ensure that the lives of as many people as possible will be better tomorrow than they are today. Here close by, ánd far away,” said Meryame Kitir, Belgium’s Minister of Development Cooperation, in charge of Major Cities.

Belgium is one of UNDP’s core partners and supporters of its work, especially in the Least Developed Countries, including areas affected by conflict or post-conflict challenges. For example, Belgium’s funding has allowed UNDP and partners to help restore education in Iraq, especially by rehabilitating the schools that were damaged after ISIL’s occupation, with over 100,000 pupils going back to school.

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, and dismantle 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 standard of living, to include two more elements: a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint (both per capita), 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.

Between 1990 and 2019, Belgium’s HDI value increased from 0.813 to 0.931, an increase of 14.5 percent. According to the 2019 HDI, Belgium ranks 14 out of 189 countries and territories, which puts the country in the very high human development category. The rank is shared with New Zealand.

When it comes to the PHDI, Belgium climbs four spots from its HDI rank. Both components of this new adjustment factor play a role. With regards to carbon dioxide emissions, Belgium shows a value of 8.7 tonnes per capita, which is smaller than the aggregate value for countries in OECD (9.5) but larger than the value for the world (4.6). For its material footprint, Belgium shows a value of 24.1 tonnes per capita which is a bit smaller than the aggregate value for OECD countries (24.8) but much larger than the value for the world (12.3).

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.

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


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