COVID-19 has exposed inequalities in a short time; human beings should work with nature: UNDP report

Pedro Conceicao, director of UNDP's Human Development Report Office, and lead author of the report, said how people experience planetary pressures is tied to how societies work.

The COVID-19 pandemic took little time to expose the inequalities as well as weaknesses in social and economic systems, which has threatened human development, and calls for a greater need to work with and not against the nature, the UNDP said in a report launched on Wednesday.

The pandemic is the latest crisis facing the world but unless humans release their grip on nature, it will not be the last, according to the 2020 report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The report has included a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries' carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.

"It took COVID-19 very little time to expose and exploit overlapping inequalities, as well as weaknesses in social, economic, and political systems, and threaten reversals in human development.

"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 said.

The UNDP report has suggested world leaders take bold steps to reduce the immense pressure that is exerted on the environment and the natural world, so as to prevent humanity's progress.

"People's agency and empowerment can bring about the action we need if we are to live in balance with the planet in a fairer world. We are at an unprecedented moment in history, in which human activity has become a dominant force shaping the planet," said the report.

It added that these impacts interact with existing inequalities, threatening significant development reversals.

"Nothing short of a great transformation – in how we live, work and cooperate – is needed to change the path we are on."

Citing events such as climate crisis, biodiversity collapse, and ocean acidification, the UNDP said the list is long and growing longer.

"So much so that many scientists believe that for the first time, instead of the planet shaping humans, humans are knowingly shaping the planet. This is the Anthropocene – the Age of Humans - a new geologic epoch."

"Though humanity has achieved incredible progress, we have taken the Earth for granted, destabilising the systems upon which we rely for survival," said the report.

It added that COVID-19, which almost certainly sprang to humans from animals, offers a glimpse of our future, in which the strain on our planet mirrors the strain facing societies.

Thirty years ago, UNDP created a new way to conceive and measure progress.

Instead of using growth in GDP as the sole measure of development, it ranked the world's countries by their human development: by whether people in each country have the freedom and opportunity to live the lives they value.

As people and planet enter an entirely new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, it is time 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, the report argues.

"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 UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner.

He added that as this report shows, no country in the world has yet achieved high human development without putting immense strain on the planet.

In its 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, titled 'The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene,' the UNDP has introduced an experimental new lens to its annual Human Development Index (HDI).

It has adjusted the HDI, which measures a nation's health, education and standards of living, and included 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.

Niti Aayog Member Ramesh Chand, who was present at the virtual report launch in India, said adjusting HDI to planetary pressures, which have created environmental consequences to development activities, is quite innovative and revealing.

"I feel that to take care of the interest of the present as well as interest of the present plus future generation, was long overdue and it was not easy to internalise it. So, I really feel happy that UNDP introduced this new innovation," Chand said.

He added that it shed light on how much the present generation is snatching from the future generations.

He highlighted that there is a greater need to pay more attention in future to emissions from agriculture sector as well, and not only from the industries.

"We see emission from factories, but we do not see emissions from fields, as they are generally invisible. Emissions from factories are visible," he added.

TERI Director General Ajay Mathur said that with the pandemic, years of development efforts have suddenly plummeted.

"And, I think the recovery will tell us how quickly we can come back at least to the same point and then become better. And, that is why planning for tomorrow becomes important. Planning for tomorrow in the case of India where a large amount of infrastructure is yet to be build," Mathur said.

The report said 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.

This chokes opportunities for people who have less and minimises their ability to do anything about it.

Pedro Conceicao, director of UNDP's Human Development Report Office and lead author of the report, said how people experience planetary pressures is tied to how societies work.

Today, broken societies are putting people and our planet on a collision course, Conceicao said. 

Edited by Anju Narayanan


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