The UNDP’s annual Human Development Report (HDR) has performed the role of a book-keeper of human progress and there are, according to the latest volume, a great number of positives that need to be acknowledged and celebrated. Since the first HDR was published 17 years ago, the percentage of those living on less than a dollar a day has fallen from 29 per cent to 18 per cent. While child mortality rates have fallen significantly, life expectancy has increased by three years. The Report makes a special acknowledgement of India’s emergence as a high-growth economy, which has led to what it terms as “enormous opportunities for accelerated human development”. It’s another matter, though, that in terms of HDR ranking, India still finds itself in the bottom half of the international pool.
This cumulative progress made by the world has, however, taken place under the growing shadow of a phenomenon that could halt human progress. In focusing on the theme of ‘Fighting Climate Change’, the HDR this time adds its voice and authority to a growing number of reports on the irreversible damage that the steady heating of the planet — scientists estimate that world temperatures have increased by 0.7 Celsius over the last 100 years — will wreak on human society. But with the threat comes opportunity. The doomsday projections are fortunately combined with some pragmatic measures that could change the way the world does business. This includes a raft of fiscal instruments and breakthrough technologies. To one of these, the Report fixes the adjective ‘breakthrough’: Carbon Capture and Storage — mark the acronym ‘CCS’, it may be with us for a while — could actually allow big coal users like India, China and the US to continue with this fossil fuel while containing its atmosphere damaging potential.
No region of the world or community can escape the consequences of climate change, but some are certainly more vulnerable. It should be of considerable concern to India that the glaciers of the Himalaya are receding at a rate of 10 to 15 metres a year. Yet not many in this country have fathomed the consequences that this could have for the country, in general, and their own lives in particular, or understood how other vulnerable communities have coped with extreme weather. UN reports and talk sessions like next week’s Bali meet on climate change can only go so far. Insights such as these need to be internalised and reflected in the way people live and markets function.
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