An experimental global index offers a new measurement of human progress that illustrates the challenge of tackling poverty and inequality while easing planetary pressure.
Bangkok, 17 December 2020 - 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 lays out a stark choice for world leaders - take bold steps to reduce the immense pressure that is being exerted on the environment and the natural world, or humanity’s progress will stall.
“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, record-breaking temperatures and spiraling inequality, it is time to use that power to redefine what we mean by progress, where our carbon and consumption footprints are no longer hidden,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.
“As this report shows, no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet. But we could be the first generation to right this wrong. That is the next frontier for human development,” he said.
Thailand, like many other countries, is facing challenges in securing a resilient recovery and tackling inequality without exacerbating planetary pressure.
According to the report, Thailand has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.777 in 2019, remaining in the high human development category. Featuring at the 79th place in world ranking (out of 189 countries), Thailand is the developing country with the third-highest progress in the world in its HDI ranking over the period 2014-2019, up by 8 ranks. This reflects the country’s continued improvement in life expectancy at birth, years of schooling, and income per capita.
Despite this progress, inequality as well as environmental strains loom large. Thailand’s HDI declines by 16.9% to 0.646 when discounted for inequality. Furthermore, the country’s HDI falls by 7.9% to 0.716 after adjusting for its carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.
On the heels of these developments came COVID-19. The pandemic’s fallout on education, health and income is threatening to reverse overall global progress in human development for the first time since the launch of the Human Development Index.
Although Thailand’s health response to the pandemic and ability to curb infections has been a remarkable success story, income and livelihoods have been severely impacted and the country’s progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has been undermined.
This calls for Thailand, along with the rest of the world, to rethink their development model—one that benefits all people and planet.
The report argues that as people and planet enter an entirely new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, it is time for all countries to redesign their 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): the Planetary-Pressures Adjusted HDI – or PHDI, which includes two more elements: a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint.
With the PHDI, a new global picture emerges, painting a less rosy but clearer assessment of human progress. For example, more than 50 countries drop out of the very high human development group, reflecting their dependence on fossil fuels and material footprint.
The next frontier for human development will require working with and not against nature, while transforming social norms, values, and government and financial incentives, the report argues.
According to the report, easing planetary pressures in a way that enables all people to flourish in this new age requires dismantling the inequalities of power and opportunity that stand in the way of transformation.
Public action can address these inequalities, with examples ranging from increasingly progressive taxation and rethinking fossil fuels subsidy to promoting nature-based solutions and protecting coastal communities.
The report cites Thailand’s community mangrove forest conservation programme in Baan Bang La, winner of the UN’s Equator Prize in 2017, which aims to protect coastal ecosystems to reduce disaster risks, as an example of how nature-based solutions are being implemented and help advance human development while protecting ecosystem integrity.
Beyond that, green recovery is an integral part of Thailand’s Contingency Plan on COVID-19 that sets the framework for the national policy response and transition to recovery. UNDP is supporting the country’s green recovery in various fronts; from providing biodiversity-protection jobs for communities in buffer zones to monitoring greenhouse gases and carbon footprints in target cities and preparing a finance strategy for the 2023-2026 National Adaptation Plan.
The pandemic presents unprecedented challenges, but also opportunities to build forward better. UNDP is committed to support Thailand and every country in the world on its path towards a strong, resilient recovery and sustainable development. Our collective efforts are needed now more than ever to ensure that human development could take a transformational step forward to support societies and the planet together.
To learn more about the 2020 Human Development report and UNDP’s analysis on the experimental Planetary Pressures-Adjusted HDI, visit http://hdr.undp.org/en/2020-report
UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet. Learn more at undp.org/ th.undp.org or follow at @UNDP/ @UNDPThailand.
Communications and Engagement Officer, UNDP Thailand
Communications and Engagement Assistant, UNDP Thailand
Press Release in Thai version read here.