Environmental deterioration threatens to reverse recent progress in human
development for the world’s poorest, warns a United Nations report released
today, calling for urgent action to slow climate change, prevent further
degradation and reduce inequalities.
The annual UN Human Development Report, this year entitled Sustainability and
Equity: A Better Future for All, argues that human development is
intricately linked to environmental sustainability, and that this in turn must
be approached as a matter of basic social justice for current and future
“Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as
this report so persuasively argues,” says UN Development Programme (UNDP) chief
Helen Clark in the report’s foreword.
“It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives, with an awareness
that everything we do has consequences for the seven billions of us here today,
as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come.”
in Copenhagen today by Miss Clark and Danish Prime Minister Helle
Thorning-Schmidt, notes that remarkable progress has been made by poor countries
with low rankings on the Human Development Index (HDI). In the past 40 years
alone, the countries placed in the lowest 25 per cent of the global rankings
improved their overall HDI by 82 per cent.
The report states that if this
pace of improvement continues, most countries would be able to enjoy the HDI of
the top 25 per cent by the year 2050, which would represent an extraordinary
achievement for global human development.
However, the report also warns that if left unchecked, environmental degradation
could reverse this growth trend, requiring immediate action from governments to
prevent this from happening.
The report paints a scenario in which food prices could soar by up to 50 per
cent and efforts to expand water, sanitation and energy access to billions of
people could be reversed, particularly in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa if
countries fail to take measures to achieve sustainability.
The report notes that people in the poorest countries are particularly
vulnerable to climate-driven disasters such as drought and flooding, as well as
exposure to air and water pollution. It adds that it is not only environmental
disasters, but general environment deterioration which threatens other factors
crucial to human development.
“Half of all malnutrition worldwide is attributable to environmental factors,
such as water pollution and drought-driven scarcity, perpetuating a vicious
cycle of impoverishment and ecological damage,” the report says.
In addition, the report stresses that growth and high living standards need not
be tied to carbon-fuel activities, and presents evidence that fossil-fuel
consumption does not correspond with other measures of human development such as
life expectancy and education, making it possible for countries to experience
growth while at the same time reducing their carbon footprint.
“Growth driven by fossil fuel consumption is not a prerequisite for a better
life in broader human development terms,” Miss Clark said. “Investments that
improve equity – in access, for example, to renewable energy, water and
sanitation, and reproductive health care – could advance both sustainability and
The report also includes the HDI rankings, which covered 187 countries according
to standard of living taking into account health, education and income data.
This year, Norway, Australia and the Netherlands lead the rankings, while the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Niger and Burundi are at the bottom of