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    Wednesday, November 23, 2011


    Human Development Report 2011; Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All
    November 2011 (United Nations Development Program)

    This year’s Report focuses on the challenge of sustainable and equitable progress. A joint lens shows how environmental degradation intensifies inequality through adverse impacts on already disadvantaged people and how inequalities in human development amplify environmental degradation.

    Human development, which is about expanding people’s choices, builds on shared natural resources. Promoting human development requires addressing sustainability—locally, nationally and globally—and this can and should be done in ways that are equitable and empowering.

    We seek to ensure that poor people’s aspirations for better lives are fully taken into account in moving towards greater environmental sustainability. And we point to pathways that enable people, communities, countries and the international community to promote sustainability and equity so that they are mutually reinforcing.

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    Why sustainability and equity?

    The human development approach has enduring relevance in making sense of our world and addressing challenges now and in the future.

    Last year’s 20th anniversary Human Development Report (HDR) celebrated the concept of human development, emphasizing how equity, empowerment and sustainability expand people’s choices. At the same time it highlighted inherent challenges, showing that these key aspects of human development do not always come together.

    The case for considering sustainability and equity together

    This year we explore the intersections between environmental sustainability and equity, which are fundamentally similar in their concern for distributive justice. We value sustainability because future generations should have at least the same possibilities as people today. Similarly, all inequitable processes are unjust: people’s chances at better lives should not be constrained by factors outside their control. Inequalities are especially unjust when particular groups, whether because of gender, race or birthplace, are systematically disadvantaged.

    More than a decade ago Sudhir Anand and Amartya Sen made the case for jointly considering sustainability and equity. “It would be a gross violation of the universalist principle,” they argued, “if we were to be obsessed about intergenerational equity without at the same time seizing the problem of intragenerational equity” (emphasis in original). Similar themes emerged from the Brundtland Commission’s 1987 report and a series of international declarations from Stockholm in 1972 through Johannesburg in 2002. Yet today many debates about sustainability neglect equality, treating it as a separate and unrelated concern. This perspective is incomplete and counterproductive…

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    Patterns and trends, progress and prospects

    Increasing evidence points to widespread environmental degradation around the world and potential future deterioration. Because the extent of future changes is uncertain, we explore a range of predictions and consider the insights for human development.

    Our starting point, and a key theme of the 2010 HDR, is the enormous progress in human development over the past several decades—with three caveats:

    Income growth has been associated with deterioration in such key environmental indicators as carbon dioxide emissions, soil and water quality and forest cover.

    The distribution of income has worsened at the country level in much of the world, even with the narrowing of gaps in health and education achievement.

    While empowerment on average tends to accompany a rising Human Development Index (HDI), there is considerable variation around the relationship.

    Simulations for this Report suggest that by 2050 the global HDI would be 8 percent lower than in the baseline in an “environmental challenge” scenario that captures the adverse effects of global warming on agricultural production, on access to clean water and improved sanitation and on pollution (and 12 percent lower in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa). Under an even more adverse “environmental disaster” scenario, which envisions vast deforestation and land degradation, dramatic declines in biodiversity and accelerated extreme weather events, the global HDI would be some 15 percent below the projected baseline.

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    If we do nothing to halt or reverse current trends, the environmental disaster scenario leads to a turning point before 2050 in developing countries—their convergence with rich countries in HDI achievements begins to reverse.

    These projections suggest that in many cases the most disadvantaged people bear and will continue to bear the repercussions of environmental deterioration, even if they contribute little to the problem. For example, low HDI countries have contributed the least to global climate change, but they have experienced the greatest loss in rainfall and the greatest increase in its variability, with implications for agricultural production and livelihoods.

    Emissions per capita are much greater in very high HDI countries than in low, medium and high HDI countries combined because of more energy-intensive activities—driving cars, cooling and heating homes and businesses, consuming processed and packaged food. The average person in a very high HDI country accounts for more than four times the carbon dioxide emissions and about twice the methane and nitrous oxide emissions of a person in a low, medium or high HDI country—and about 30 times the carbon dioxide emissions of a person in a low HDI country. The average UK citizen accounts for as much greenhouse gas emissions in two months as a person in a low HDI country generates in a year. And the average Qatari—living in the country with the highest per capita emissions—does so in only 10 days, although that value reflects consumption as well as production that is consumed elsewhere.

    While three-quarters of the growth in emissions since 1970 comes from low, medium and high HDI countries, overall levels of greenhouse gases remain much greater in very high HDI countries. And this stands without accounting for the relocation of carbon-intensive production to poorer countries, whose output is largely exported to rich countries.

    Around the world rising HDI has been associated with environmental degradation—though the damage can be traced largely to economic growth. Countries with higher incomes generally have higher carbon dioxide emissions per capita. But our analysis finds no association between emissions and the health and education components of the HDI. This result is intuitive: activities that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are those linked to the production of goods, not to the provision of health and education. These results also show the nonlinear nature of the relationship between carbon dioxide emissions per capita and HDI components: little or no relationship at low HDI, but as the HDI rises a “tipping point” is reached, beyond which appears a strong positive correlation between carbon dioxide emissions and income.

    Countries with faster improvements in the HDI have also experienced faster increases in carbon dioxide emissions per capita. These changes over time—rather than the snapshot relationship—highlight what to expect tomorrow as a result of development today.

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    Again, income changes drive the trend. But these relationships do not hold for all environmental indicators. Our analysis finds only a weak positive correlation between the HDI and deforestation, for example. Why do carbon dioxide emissions differ from other environmental threats? We suggest that where the link between the environment and quality of life is direct, as with pollution, environmental achievements are often greater in developed countries; where the links are more diffuse, performance is much weaker. Looking at the relationship between environmental risks and the HDI, we observe three general findings:

    Household environmental deprivations—indoor air pollution, inadequate access to clean water and improved sanitation—are more severe at low HDI levels and decline as the HDI rises.

    Environmental risks with community effects—such as urban air pollution—seem to rise and then fall with development; some suggest that an inverted U-shaped curve describes the relationship.

    Environmental risks with global effects—namely greenhouse gas emissions—typically rise with the HDI.

    The HDI itself is not the true driver of these transitions. Incomes and economic growth have an important explanatory role for emissions—but the relationship is not deterministic either. And complex interactions of broader forces change the risk patterns. For example, international trade allows countries to outsource the production of goods that degrade the environment; large-scale commercial use of natural resources has different impacts than subsistence exploitation; and urban and rural environmental profiles differ. And as we will see, policies and the political context matter greatly.

    It follows that the patterns are not inevitable…

    Understanding the links…Bad environments and health—overlapping deprivations…Impeding education advances for disadvantaged children, especially girls…Other repercussions…Disequalizing effects of extreme weather events…Empowerment—reproductive choice and political imbalances…Gender inequality…Power disparities…

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    Positive synergies—winning strategies for the environment, equity and human development

    In facing the challenges elaborated here, a range of governments, civil society, private sector actors and development partners have created approaches that integrate environmental sustainability and equity and promote human development—win-win-win strategies. Effective solutions must be context-specific.

    But it is important, nonetheless, to consider local and national experiences that show potential and to recognize principles that apply across contexts. At the local level we stress the need for inclusive institutions; and at the national level, the scope for the scaling up of successful innovations and policy reform.

    The policy agenda is vast. This Report cannot do it full justice—but the value added is in identifying win-win-win strategies that demonstrate success in addressing our social, economic and environmental challenges by managing, or even bypassing, trade-offs through approaches that are good not only for the environment but also for equity and human development more broadly. To inspire debate and action, we offer concrete examples showing how the strategy of overcoming potential trade-offs and identifying positive synergies has worked in practice.

    Here, we present the example of modern energy.

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    Access to modern energy

    Energy is central to human development, yet some 1.5 billion people worldwide—more than one in five—lack electricity. Among the multidimensionally poor the deprivations are much greater—one in three lacks access.

    Is there a trade-off between expanding energy provision and carbon emissions? Not necessarily. We argue that this relationship is wrongly characterized. There are many promising prospects for expanding access without a heavy environmental toll:

    Off-grid decentralized options are technically feasible for delivering energy services to poor households and can be financed and delivered with minimal impact on the climate.

    Providing basic modern energy services for all would increase carbon dioxide emissions by only an estimated 0.8 percent—taking into account broad policy commitments already announced.

    Global energy supply reached a tipping point in 2010, with renewables accounting for 25 percent of global power capacity and delivering more than 18 percent of global electricity.

    The challenge is to expand access at a scale and speed that will improve the lives of poor women and men now and in the future.

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    Averting environmental degradation

    A broader menu of measures to avert environmental degradation ranges from expanding reproductive choice to promoting community forest management and adaptive disaster responses.

    Reproductive rights, including access to reproductive health services, are a precondition for women’s empowerment and could avert environmental degradation. Major improvements are feasible. Many examples attest to the opportunities for using the existing health infrastructure to deliver reproductive health services at little additional cost and to the importance of community involvement.

    Consider Bangladesh, where the fertility rate plunged from 6.6 births per woman in 1975 to 2.4 in 2009. The government used outreach and subsidies to make contraceptives more easily available and influenced social norms through discussions with opinion leaders of both sexes, including religious leaders, teachers and nongovernmental organizations.

    Community forest management could redress local environmental degradation and mitigate carbon emissions, but experience shows that it also risks excluding and disadvantaging already marginalized groups. To avoid these risks, we underline the importance of broad participation in designing and implementing forest management, especially for women, and of ensuring that poor groups and those who rely on forest resources are not made worse-off.

    Promising avenues are also emerging to reduce the adverse impacts of disasters through equitable and adaptive disaster responses and innovative social protection schemes. Disaster responses include community-based risk mapping and more progressive distribution of reconstructed assets. Experience has spurred a shift to decentralized models of risk reduction. Such efforts can empower local communities, particularly women, by emphasizing participation in design and decision-making. Communities can rebuild in ways that redress existing inequalities.

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    Rethinking our development model—levers for change

    The large disparities across people, groups and countries that add to the large and growing environmental threats pose massive policy challenges. But there is cause for optimism. In many respects the conditions today are more conducive to progress than ever—given innovative policies and initiatives in some parts of the world. Taking the debate further entails bold thinking, especially on the eve of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and the dawn of the post-2015 era. This Report advances a new vision for promoting human development through the joint lens of sustainability and equity. At the local and national levels we stress the need to bring equity to the forefront of policy and programme design and to exploit the potential multiplier effects of greater empowerment in legal and political arenas. At the global level we highlight the need to devote more resources to pressing environmental threats and to boost the equity and representation of disadvantaged countries and groups in accessing finance.

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    Integrating equity concerns into green economy policies

    A key theme of this Report is the need to fully integrate equity concerns into policies that affect the environment. Traditional methods of assessing environmental policies fall short.

    They might expose the impacts on the path of future emissions, for example, but they are often silent on distributive issues. Even when the effects on different groups are considered, attention is typically restricted to people’s incomes. The importance of equity and inclusion is already explicit in the objectives of green economy policies. We propose taking the agenda further.

    Several key principles could bring broader equity concerns into policy-making through stakeholder involvement in analysis that considers:

    Nonincome dimensions of well-being, through such tools as the MPI.

    Indirect and direct effects of policy.

    Compensation mechanisms for adversely affected people.

    Risk of extreme weather events that, however unlikely, could prove catastrophic. Early analysis of the distributional and environmental consequences of policies is critical.

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    A clean and safe environment—a right, not a privilege

    Embedding environmental rights in national constitutions and legislation can be effective, not least by empowering citizens to protect such rights. At least 120 countries have constitutions that address environmental norms.

    And many countries without explicit environmental rights interpret general constitutional provisions for individual rights to include a fundamental right to a healthy environment.

    Constitutionally recognizing equal rights to a healthy environment promotes equity by no longer limiting access to those who can afford it. And embodying this right in the legal framework can affect government priorities and resource allocations.

    Alongside legal recognition of equal rights to a healthy, well functioning environment is the need for enabling institutions, including a fair and independent judiciary, and the right to information from governments and corporations.

    The international community, too, increasingly recognizes a right to environmental information.

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    Participation and accountability…Financing investments: where do we stand?...

    …Four important messages emerge from our financing analysis:

    Investment needs are large, but they do not exceed current spending on other sectors such as the military. The estimated annual investment to achieve universal access to modern sources of energy is less than an eighth of annual subsidies for fossils fuels.

    Public sector commitments are important (the generosity of some donors stands out), and the private sector is a major—and critical—source of finance. Public efforts can catalyse private investment, emphasizing the importance of increasing public funds and supporting a positive investment climate and local capacity.

    Data constraints make it hard to monitor private and domestic public sector spending on environmental sustainability. Available information allows only official development assistance flows to be examined.

    Funding architecture is complex and fragmented, reducing its effectiveness and making spending hard to monitor. There is much to learn from earlier commitments to aid effectiveness made in Paris and Accra…

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    Reforms for greater equity and voice

    Bridging the gap that separates policy-makers, negotiators and decision-makers from the citizens most vulnerable to environmental degradation requires closing the accountability gap in global environmental governance. Accountability alone cannot meet the challenge, but it is fundamental for building a socially and environmentally effective global governance system that delivers for people. We call for measures to improve equity and voice in access to financial flows directed at supporting efforts to combat environmental degradation.

    Private resources are critical, but because most of the financial flows into the energy sector, for example, come from private hands, the greater risks and lower returns of some regions in the eyes of private investors affect the patterns of flows. Without reform, access to financing will remain unevenly distributed across countries and, indeed, exacerbate existing inequalities. This underlines the importance of ensuring that flows of public investments are equitable and help create conditions to attract future private flows. The implications are clear—principles of equity are needed to guide and encourage international financial flows. Support for institution building is needed so that developing countries can establish appropriate policies and incentives. The associated governance mechanisms for international public financing must allow for voice and social accountability.

    Any truly transformational effort to scale up efforts to slow or halt climate change will require blending domestic and international, private and public, and grant and loan resources. To facilitate both equitable access and efficient use of international financial flows, this Report advocates empowering national stakeholders to blend climate finance at the country level. National climate funds can facilitate the operational blending and monitoring of domestic and international, private and public, and grant and loan resources.

    This is essential to ensure domestic accountability and positive distributional effects.

    The Report proposes an emphasis on four country-level sets of tools to take this agenda forward:

    Low-emission, climate-resilient strategies—to align human development, equity and climate change goals.

    Public-private partnerships—to catalyse capital from businesses and households.

    Climate deal-flow facilities—To bring about equitable access to international public finance.

    Coordinated implementation and monitoring ,reporting and verification systems—to bring about long-term, efficient results and accountability to local populations as well as partners.

    Finally, we call for a high-profile, global Universal Energy Access Initiative with advocacy and awareness and dedicated support to developing clean energy at the country level. Such an initiative could kickstart efforts to shift from incremental to transformative change…


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