Knut Ostby: Address at the Asia Pacific Launch of the Human Development Report 2011

03 Nov 2011

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.

I am very pleased that we could take this occasion of the meeting of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to have the Asia-Pacific launch of our global flagship report -- the Human Development Report 2011—this year titled, Sustainability and Equity – A better future for all.

The focus of this report ties in well with the seventh conference of the Pacific Community next week where ministers will be discussing managing risks for sustainable development brought about by the impact of climate change on food security in the Pacific.

UNDP’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, Ajay Chhibber, speaking about this report has said “There will be no sustainable development if the way we live and grow destroys the ecosystems in which we all live on this planet. There is no Plan B for Planet Earth, and for the  people of the Pacific, that message is loud and clear as their very existence is threatened. This report takes a close look at how equitable access to renewable energy, water and sanitation, healthcare—can advance both sustainability and human development.”

The report is about human development. It is about how we live, how we relate to each other and to our surroundings. Now that we are 7 billion people living together in this world, more and more we will feel the consequences of everything we do on everything else around us. It is important that we look carefully at what we do and on how it affects our own environment, how it affects others and how it affects future generations.

What world will this seven billionth child grow up to inherit? Will this girl or boy have clean air to breathe and affordable food to eat?  Some answers to these questions can be found in the report we are launching today.

The Human Development Report 2011 warns that if we do not take bold steps to invest in improving access to renewable energy, water and sanitation, and reproductive healthcare services to protect the disadvantaged from getting poorer, the future generations will be living in a bleak world.

The current fossil fuel injected growth has left many people outside the development circle. Some have not progressed any nearer to the circle, while others have been flung further from its centre. What is the place for the seven billionth person? Does he or she not deserve to enjoy the same privileges as his or her elders?

What is Human Development?
Human development is “enlarging people’s choices,” including the ability to be healthy, to be educated, and to enjoy a decent standard of living. Human development and well-being go far beyond these dimensions to encompass a much broader range of capabilities, including political freedoms and human rights. 

Since its inception in 1990, the Human Development Report has been intellectually and editorially independent, and often provocative, though always with firm grounding in empirical research. The Report depends on statistics from a wide array of UN and other multilateral agencies, but its analysis and conclusions are the product and responsibility of the Report’s authors alone.

With its wealth of empirical data and innovative approach to measuring development, the Human Development Reports have had a deep impact on development thinking around the world. The Human Development Reports have also long stressed the importance of sustainability. The first Report, in 1990, warned already at that time about ozone damage and urban pollution and other environmental hazards. The 1994 Report emphasized the centrality of sustainable development to the human development approach of putting people first, not economic growth as an end in itself. And the 2007/8 Report addressed the consequences of climate change for the world’s poor. The 2011 Report, building on that legacy, identifies policies that can advance sustainability and equality simultaneously, locally as well as globally.

What Does this Report Tell Us?
This report is important for the world right now, and with its attention on sustainability and equitable access to global common goods it is highly relevant for the Pacific. This publication demonstrates the integral links between environmental sustainability and equity that are critical to expanding human freedoms for people today and in generations to come.

It illustrates that the remarkable progress that has been made in human development over recent decades cannot continue without bold global steps to reduce environmental risks and inequality.

Many disadvantaged people carry a double burden of deprivation. They are more vulnerable to the wider effects of environmental degradation, because of more severe stresses and fewer means of coping. Forecasts suggest that continuing failure to reduce the grave environmental risks and deepening social inequalities threaten to slow decades of sustained progress by the world’s poor majority, and even reverse the global convergence in human development.

Investment needs for environmental protection and adaptation in poor countries are great, but far less than recent global spending on financial sector bailouts.

This report shows that fossil-fueled growth is not a prerequisite for a better life, as defined in broader human development terms. The right social investments that improve equity—in access to renewable energy, water and sanitation, and reproductive health—could advance both sustainability and human development.

What does this report Say about the Pacific?
Turning to the Pacific, the report has some indicators for which this region can be proud. Palau scores highest in the Pacific, followed by Tonga as the only other Pacific island country in the High Human Development Index category. Between 1980 and 2011, Palau’s life expectancy at birth increased by an impressive 12.6 years and expected years of schooling increased by 0.2 years. Tonga showed progress in each of the Human Development Index indicators. Between 1980 and 2011, Tonga’s life expectancy at birth increased by 4.8 years, mean years of schooling increased by 3.0 years and expected years of schooling increased by 0.9 years.

Yet overall, the report shows that the Asia and Pacific nations are the most vulnerable to projected sea-level rises, with more than 100 million people at risk in the decades ahead.  Since 1870 the average sea level has risen 20 centimetres, and the rate of change has accelerated, threatening to swamp populous, low-lying areas in, for example, Bangladesh, as well as island nations in the Pacific.

Rising sea levels will displace people and inundate low-lying lands. Island countries with a low mean elevation— such as Tuvalu (1.83 metres), Kiribati (2.0 metres) and the Marshall Islands (2.13 metres)—are seriously threatened by the possibility of a 0.18–0.59 metre sea level rise by the end of the 21st century.

Health effects may be severe as well. Kiribati, as only one example, can expect a 10 percent drop in rainfall by 2050— reducing fresh water 20 percent. Moreover, salt water intrusions are increasing due to sea level rise and frequent coastal flooding, further contaminating ground water wells, the primary fresh water source for its rapidly growing population.

Globally, around 45 million people— at least 6 million of them women— fish for a living and are threatened by overfishing and climate change. The vulnerability is twofold: the countries most at risk also rely the most on fish for dietary protein, livelihoods and exports. Climate change is expected to lead to major declines in fish stocks in the Pacific Islands.

In fact, climate change is predicted to reduce fishery resources in the Pacific Islands by as much as half by 2100 and to drastically reduce coral reefs. Research commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme emphasizes the centrality of fishing to livelihoods in the Pacific region for both subsistence and cash.

What can we do to ensure that the seven billionth person has clean water to drink, clean air to breathe and clean energy to cook with?

Looking beyond the Millennium Development Goals, the world needs a post 2015 development framework to reflect equity and sustainability. The “Rio+20” conference next year will provide a new opportunity for the world community to reach a shared understanding about how to move forward. The Report advocates for global sustainability policies that take equitability and long-term human development progress fully into account, including through needed legal and political reforms.

These would include more systematic consideration of the distributional effects of green economy policies, enforceable rights to a clean and safe environment, and mechanisms to hold decision-makers to account and promote wider public participation in policymaking. Giving poor individuals and countries a greater voice in decision-making at the local, national and global levels is a prerequisite for ensuring that development becomes both more equitable and more sustainable in the decades to come.

The Pacific Island Forum Leaders in a joint statement with the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, highlighted the importance of sustainable economic growth for long term development in the Pacific.

The financing needed for development—including environmental and social protection—will need to be many times greater in upcoming decades than current levels of official development assistance. Spending on climate change adaptation and mitigation is around 11 percent of estimated need. Private sector funding is critical but needs to be supported and leveraged by proactive public investment. Closing the financing gap requires innovative thinking.

This report outlines a major innovative source of finance that can be a new currency transaction tax. Beyond raising new sources of funds to address pressing environmental threats equitably, the Report advocates global reforms to promote equity and voice. Financing flows need to be channeled toward the critical challenges of unsustainability and inequity—and not exacerbate existing disparities.

Stronger accountability and democratic processes, in part through support for an active civil society and media, can also improve results. Successful approaches rely on community management, inclusive institutions that pay particular attention to disadvantaged groups, and approaches that coordinate budgets and mechanisms across government agencies and development partners.

This report argues that incremental changes are not enough. Aside from the transaction tax, it also calls for Swift implementation of the UN’s Universal Energy Access Initiative – It urges a Global campaign – to develop clean energy at the country level and Support for national low emission, climate-resilient development strategies.

The General Assembly declared 2012 the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has set a goal of Sustainable Energy for All by 2030 has three objectives: 

  • Ensuring universal access to modern energy services;
  • Doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency;
  • Doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

Pacific Island countries are talking positive steps in embracing renewable energy. To mention two important examples, Tonga needs to be commended for its Renewable Energy Roadmap, and the State of Kosrae in the Federated State of Micronesia has started work to be powered 100% by renewable energy.

This report calls for bold action to break the destructive link between environmental degradation and economic growth that has tainted much of the development experience of the past half-century and threatens future progress.  It illustrates how human development can become environmentally sustainable and more equitable. Its policy agenda helps to redress imbalances that simply cannot persist.

There are alternatives to inequality and unsustainability. Investments that improve lives, ensure that families have access to clean and affordable energy, have safe water that they can drink, and healthcare they can depend on – all of these investments can advance both sustainability and human development.

As the report states, “If the world fails to act now, future generations may remember the early 21st century as the time when the doors to a better future closed for most of the world’s poor.”

Thank you.