Helen Clark: Global Launch of the 2011 Human Development Report

Nov 2, 2011


Remarks for UNDP Administrator Helen Clark
Global Launch of the 2011 Human Development Report
“Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All”
2 November 2011, Copenhagen

It is a pleasure to be launching the 2011 Human Development Report, “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All”, in Copenhagen.  

Let me first extend my congratulations to you, Madam Prime Minister, for your historic election last month as Denmark’s first woman Prime Minister. Denmark is a close partner of UNDP, and we look forward to working closely with you and your government.  As the UN Secretary-General noted in his visit to this city last month, Denmark is on the front lines of global progress on development and environmental protection, providing leadership in international fora and through its own national example.

What is Human Development?

The first global Human Development Report was launched in 1990, and called for a paradigm shift in the measurement of development progress to put people at its very centre.  It defined human development as a process of enlarging people’s freedoms, choices and capabilities, and created the Human Development Index (HDI) in order to move beyond the traditional GDP measure for assessing the state of development.

The HDI incorporated indicators for education and life expectancy alongside that for material well-being.  It and the human development paradigm overall have informed the work of policy makers, academics, and development actors alike. The indices associated with the annual Human Development Reports have evolved over time to capture more nuances of human development and to reflect inequities in distribution better, but the underlying, people-centered approach to measurement of development progess has remained constant. 

Over the years, the annual Human Development Reports have tackled a range of pressing global challenges, from gender inequality, to migration, to water scarcity, and much more.  Their collective intellectual legacy is notable. 

In 1990 the first Report laid the foundation for the ideas and concepts integral to the human development paradigm which now form part of mainstream thinking about development.  In 1994, the Report launched here in Copenhagen introduced a new concept of human security.

This 2011 Human Development Report addresses a central challenge of the twenty-first century: achieving equity and environmental sustainability by treating them not as independent issues, but as goals which are inextricably linked to continued human development progress. This perspective can inform debate on sustainable development as the world prepares for the Rio+20 Summit, and will help guide our thinking toward the post-2015 framework for development goals.

The 2011 Human Development Report

Finding ways to make human development progress truly sustainable for the seven billion people who now live on our planet and for generations to come is a central challenge of the 21st century. The international community must find pathways to development which maintain ecosystem balance and reduce inequalities within and between nations.

Last year’s twentieth anniversary Human Development Report celebrated the advent of the human development paradigm by focusing on how equity, empowerment, and sustainability acting together expand people’s choices. The Report looked back on trends in human development over the past forty years and documented significant progress, especially among the poorest countries.  Those in the lowest 25 per cent of the HDI rankings had improved their overall HDI achievement by 82 per cent, twice the global average, leading to a reduction in inequality between countries at the top and the bottom.

This year’s Report is forward looking. It asks whether we can expect the positive trends of the last forty years to continue and improvements to be sustained for the people who will live on this planet over the next four decades.  It is an ambitious Report, using information on trends in environmental degradation and widening inequality to make a range of projections on what our world could look like in 2050.      

The Report also issues a warning: that escalating environmental hazards threaten to slow or reverse the notable progress of previous decades. The impact in the worst case scenario is projected to be worse for countries which are low on the HDI, leading to widening inequalities between high HDI and low HDI countries.  

Key Messages
The Report’s central message is that equity and sustainability are inextricably linked - that one will not be achieved without the other.  It raises a number of issues which are important for our understanding of this relationship and offers guidance for moving forward on both dimensions.  

First, while environmental risks such as climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and natural disasters affect all members of society, they do disproportionately affect the most vulnerable. They suffer a double burden of deprivation from being more vulnerable to the wider effects of environmental degradation and having less resilience.  They must also cope with threats to their immediate environment from insufficient and/or unclean water, indoor air pollution from unhealthy cooking and heating methods, and poor sanitation.

Second, the Report argues that these patterns of inequity and unsustainability are shaped by disparities in power at the global and national levels.  For example, at the global level the voice of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) must work hard to be heard in climate change negotiations above the clamour of the larger and more powerful, even though the SIDS stand to be among the most affected.  At the national level, evidence from the HDR suggests that gender inequalities are related to land degradation and to the pattern of mortality from indoor and outdoor air pollution.

The Report highlights the positive synergies which exist between greater equity and sustainability and which offer win-win-win solutions for achieving both.  For example, investments in access to renewable energy, clean water, and improved sanitation will advance equity, sustainability, and human development.  Stronger accountability and democratic processes can also improve outcomes.  Successful approaches rely on community management of natural resources, inclusive institutions which pay attention to disadvantaged groups, and cross-cutting approaches which co-ordinate budgets and mechanisms across government agencies and development partners.

The third message of the Report is that financing for environmental and social protection needs to increase. It advocates possible new public financing mechanisms which merit serious consideration, including a currency transaction tax which was identified by the Leading Group on Innovative Financing as the most viable of the sources explored. The infrastructure to support such a tax is already in place. A tiny levy would generate substantial revenues for development – just 0.005 per cent levied on currency trading would yield some $40 billion annually. 

The Report identifies pathways for people, local communities, nations and the international system to promote environmental sustainability and equity in mutually reinforcing ways.
For example, it points to innovative national anti-poverty initiatives with some evidence of positive environmental impact locally, and at relatively low cost, in India, Brazil, and Mexico.  It also cites other win-win solutions from Malawi to Ethiopia and Indonesia where rural living standards have been raised by improving sanitation and land conservation. Such programmes can encourage better stewardship of ecosystems, such as forests and water resources, while at the same time reducing poverty and inequality.

2011 Indices and Rankings

As in previous years, the 2011 Report includes a detailed ranking of countries based on the Human Development Index.  Notably this year, the Report covers a record 187 countries and territories - up from 169 in the 2010 Report. 

According to this year’s Report, some 1.7 billion people in 109 countries are living in ‘multidimensional’ poverty. That number is significantly larger than the 1.3 billion people estimated to live on or below US$1.25 a day, which is the measure used in the UN Millennium Development Goals.  This reminds us again that tackling poverty and advancing human development is about more than lifting income – important as that is. 


This Human Development Report offers powerful arguments for making development more equitable to make it more sustainable – for people today and for generations to come.  It argues that the technology, the good policy models, and the resources exist to achieve equity and sustainability for all. 

The ultimate goal of human development is to expand peoples’ choices and give all people the opportunity to lead lives which they value.  That has been the guiding principle for the annual Human Development Reports.  This year’s Report offers new insights on how to move human development forward and overcome the inequity and unsustainability which currently constrain its advance.

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