The 2011 Human Development Report highlights that equity and sustainability are inextricably linked and makes the argument that one must be achieved with the other. Failure to make significant progress on both equity and the environment is likely to set back the progress made in advancing human development over the last twenty years. While environmental threats such as climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and natural disasters affect all members of society, they hurt poor countries and poor communities the most. By all accounts, climate change is already exacerbating chronic environmental threats, and loss of eco-systems is negatively impacting livelihoods, particularly of the poor.
The 2011 report contends that incremental changes in policy and practice are insufficient in responding to the challenges confronting countries in sustaining their livelihoods and making progress in human development. A clean and safe environment has to be seen as a right not a privilege, and integrating equity into overall development policies becomes an imperative, if economies and societies are to be sustained over time. Larger structural changes are now needed to deliver the solutions that effectively address the challenges ahead. These include defining low-emission, climate-resilient strategies to align human development and climate change goals, examining new financing sources including private-public partnerships to catalyse capital from businesses and households and bring about equitable access to international public finance. The report calls for a high profile global Universal Energy Access Initiative to develop clean energy at the country level, an initiative which can lead to transformative change. In October 2011, the UN Secretary General made sustainable energy a high priority for the UN system and called for a major UN initiative to achieve universal access to modern energy services by 2030. HDR 2011 estimates that providing such energy services for all will increase carbon dioxide emissions by only an estimated 0.8 percent.
The topic of the 2011 report, of equity and sustainability, directly addresses the aims of the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Also known as the Earth Summit 2012, the Conference seeks to secure renewed political commitment to sustainable development and to address new and emerging challenges. The findings of the 2011 Report are therefore of relevance to the debates and outcomes of the Conference. The Conference plans in particular to focus on two specific themes: a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and an institutional framework for sustainable development.
Purposes of the Forum
The UNDP Human Development Report Office (HDRO) and the UNDP Bureau of Development Policy (BDP) are organising the Global Human Development Forum to be held 22-23 March of 2012.
The Forum’s main objective is to better link the 2011 HDR’s global findings and proposals to specific policy conversations at the global and country levels and to the Rio+20 Conference deliberations. It seeks to bring together a diverse group of policymakers, academics and leading personalities from around the world, and place human development at the core of the discussions of the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainability.
More specifically, the Forum intends: i) to develop a broad-based consensus on the integration of equity and sustainability in global and national debates and policy formulation, and ii) to place human development frameworks at the centre of the debates and merging policy conclusions and outcomes of the Rio+20 Conference, and iii) in line with the above, prepare and reach agreement on specific actions which could form the ‘Istanbul Declaration’ as an input to the Rio+20 Conference.
In order to encourage debate on the key ideas of the 2011 HDR, UNDP will prepare a set of policy papers based on the 2011 HDR’s main findings and proposals. A formula of ‘three plus one’ topics is being followed as below. In addition, UNDP will produce a ‘flagship’ report which focuses on the ‘how’ of sustainable development.
The Forum will cover the following topics:
Greening Human Development
Recent years have witnessed important growth trajectories performed by some developing countries (like China, India, and Brazil). Nonetheless, rapid growth has often been associated with environmental degradation and increased inequality. Although some policies have partially ameliorated the environmental impacts, the systemic nature of their problems necessarily requires a profound rethink of the development model. A new vision that combines equitable economic growth with environmental sustainability is needed. The path to this structural change is not without obstacles. Even though it is not possible to provide answers to all the thorny questions, the aim of the Forum is to facilitate the process by identifying policies and strategies with the greatest collective gains and raising some important questions to be considered when addressing the challenges.
Social Contract: Building Equity and Sustainability
Pursuing long-term economic growth without ensuring the provision of social welfare, employment and environmental protection reduces social cohesion and runs down human and natural capital. Economic growth is a necessary condition for human development improvements, but it is not sufficient. Human development is an inclusive process, and the benefits of economic growth must be shared by every sector of society and must not reduce the ability of future generations to have at least the same opportunities as present and past generations.
Rights-based social contracts can require governments to provide public goods such as universal access to modern energy and universal employment, while also protecting scarce natural resources and reducing pollution. Policies and regulations included in social contracts can support long-term economic growth, while also serving as foundations for social stability and long-term environmental sustainability. The transition to a green economy implies a new social contract to deliver sustainable and equitable development. Addressing the issue of intergenerational equity implies dealing with intragenerational equity as well.
Innovative Financing for a Sustainable Future
New investments are needed to finance a more environmentally sustainable and equitable future. The 2011 HDR revisited the currency transaction tax (CTT), a fund raising mechanism initially proposed in the 1994 HDR. However, the search for new and additional development financing goes beyond the CTT and includes other innovative mechanisms, such as air ticket levies, voluntary solidarity contributions, branding of products, carbon emissions trading, and use of the IMF’s Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) among others. A coordinated mobilisation of global capital and local resources is essential to bring about the low-carbon economy envisioned for a more sustainable and equitable future. Domestic resource mobilisation efforts complementing the capital accumulation process triggered by external assistance is crucial.
Assessing Human Progress
A change of paradigm in development implies rethinking the way human progress is measured. The ultimate goal of economic and social policy is to improve the lives of people, to enhance their choices and capabilities. The first HDR in 1990 presents the Human Development Index (HDI) as an alternative to GDP as a measure of human progress. The challenge now is how to best deal with capturing the issues of sustainability, as they pertain to inter-generational equity so that actions of today do not compromise the choices of future generations. Over the years, UNDP’s HDRO has tried to innovate as new and better data sets become available, and respond to new measurement challenges. HDRO will be organising on 26 January 2012 in New York a Conference with leading experts, including the Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, to take stock of the new indices on inequality and poverty introduced by the 2010 report, and assess the possibilities of incorporating sustainability considerations in HDI measurements. The results of that conference will be presented to the Global Forum.