Lusaka, 5th March 2021 – 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 new report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which includes a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.
The Report, which was virtually launched in Zambia today, lays out a stark choice for countries to take urgent and bold steps to reduce the immense pressure that is being exerted on the environment and the natural world, or humanity’s progress will stall. The report argues that we are in an unprecedented moment in the history of our planet, that scientists term “Anthropocene,” a new geological epoch: the age of humans. For the first time in our long 300,000-year relationship, instead of the planet shaping humans, human activity is shaping the planet.
“This report calls for a renewed commitment to and investment in multilateralism, with better monitoring and enforcement so that the actions of a few countries do not limit the choices of all. The Anthropocene forces us to recognise that it is not enough to look at planetary imbalances in silos. We need to see challenges as interdependent and make systemic changes collectively” says Trevor Kaunda, the Permanent Secretary for Development Cooperation, Monitoring and Evaluation in Zambia’s Ministry of National Development Planning.
The report shows that across the globe, human development has largely happened with huge pressure on the planet showing that no country in the world has achieved yet the magic combination of high Human Development and low planetary pressure. The report argues that humans are destabilizing the very systems they need to survive and resulting pressures on our planetary systems are manifested not just as climate change and biodiversity loss but in many other ways including pollution, ocean acidification, land degradation that are affecting disproportionality developing countries. Inequalities between and within countries not only reflect unequal consequences of a dangerous planetary change, gross imbalances of power and opportunities are also the major obstacle in the way of finding solutions. For example, the poorest countries in the world could experience up to 100 more days of extreme weather a year by 2100, whereas rich countries could have this number reduced to 18 days a year, despite being more responsible for climate change.
It is time for all countries to redesign their development 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 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.
The next frontier for human development will require working with and not against nature, while transforming people’s values and social norms, scaling up nature-based solutions, creating the right incentives for change and enforcing tailor-made regulations that influence our decision making to promote rather than prevent planetary damage, the report argues.
The report further suggest that to steer actions towards transformational change, it is important to empower people in three ways, by enhancing equity, by pursuing innovation and by instilling a sense of stewardship of nature grounded on the responsible use and protection of the natural environment through conservation and sustainable practices to enhance ecosystem resilience and human wellbeing.
A range of nature-based solutions comprising 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, the report shows.
In Zambia, the virtual event was organized around speeches and a panel discussion where experts from the Government, the United Nations, the Development community, the academia, think tanks and civil society organisations enlightened the exchanges on the 2020 Human Development Report.
“As this report shows, Zambia’s human development index value for 2019 is 0.584. This puts the country in the medium human development category and at position 146 of the 189 countries and territories. Between 1990 and 2019, Zambia’s HDI value increased from 0.421 to 0.584, an increase of 38.7 percent,” Permanent Secretary Kaunda said, noting that while it is gratifying to note progress for the country, Zambia still needs to do more if it is to attain the set objectives outlined in the vision 2030. It is worth noting that Zambia’s life expectancy at birth increased by 14.6 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.5 years and expected years of schooling increased by 4.0 years. Zambia’s GNI per capita increased by about 65.0 percent between 1990 and 2019. He said Government is committed to exploring new frontiers aimed at building a more resilient and sustainable Zambia.
“For the UN System in Zambia in particular, this report provides timely theoretical and empirical reference materials for the development of our Country Analysis and new Cooperation Framework that will form the basis of our support within our next programmatic cycle. This report's findings and recommendations provide ‘food for thought’, data and background information to inform the design of policies towards sustainable development,” the UN Resident Coordinator in Zambia, Dr. Coumba Mar Gadio said, reaffirming the United Nations’ commitment to working with the Government and partners on advancing sustainable development in the country.
“It is worth noting and commendable that Zambia has been using the HDI as a key indicator in its Seventh National Development Plan (7NDP),” said Lionel Laurens, UNDP Resident Representative in Zambia. “We must work together and go beyond discrete solutions to individual problems and instead focus on mechanisms that will transform our lifestyles, how we work, eat, interact and, most of all, how we consume energy. We must also recognize that we are part of nature and not separate from it and could learn from traditional societies that have maintained a strong sense of responsibility and agency because they recognize that our humanity is part of a larger network of connections with nature, with the planet and with all living things.” He added