Rebeca Grynspan: Remarks at the Human Development Report 2011 Launch in Ghana

Nov 17, 2011


It is a pleasure to join you here this morning to present the 2011 Human Development Report. We have made a point of launching the report here in Ghana – both to highlight the importance of its findings for African and to bring attention to Ghana’s recent impressive human development progress. 

Over the last five years, Ghana has climbed five spots in the Human Development Index rankings – reflecting that Ghanaians, on average, live longer, are more prosperous and are better educated; and that this progress has been faster than in other countries.   

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Through the years Human Development Reports have addressed a range of pressing global challenges and have reaffirmed that development is about enlarging people’s choices and capabilities. The principle that guides UNDP’s work is now widely accepted – that development success should be judged not by GDP growth - but by its impact on people’s lives.

This year’s Human Development Report is no different. It addresses the central challenge of the 21st century:  How can development progress continue in ways that will raise living standards for all - without harming the environment?

Answering this question is critical because we know that, in turn, by harming the environment - we harm our potential to raise living standards in all countries and for all people – in this generation and also those to come.

An important Report for Africa

As world leaders prepare to meet in Durban this year and in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, this report is very timely.  We hope it can offer new insights to the international dialogue and inform the policy debates.  The Rio + 20 Summit offers a critical opportunity for the world community to put sustainability and equity concerns at the heart of a post-2015 international development agenda. This is particularly important for the countries of Africa.

The Report’s core argument is that equity and sustainability are inextricably linked and should be seen as two mutually reinforcing objectives.  This is also the message that we should bring to Rio to recommit to sustainable development based on socially and environmentally responsible growth that allows to accelerate the reduction of poverty and inequality between and within countries.

Last year’s Report highlighted the remarkable gains in Human Development over the last four decades  It showed that sub-Saharan Africa had the highest average HDI improvement over the past decades of any region in the world and that the poorest countries improved their  overall HDI  by 82 percent, twice the global average between 1970 and 2010.

This year’s Report is forward looking; it asks whether we can expect that this positive trend will continue, especially among developing countries, and makes a set of projections for how our world will look over the next four decades under different scenarios.

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HDR Projections to the year 2050 suggest that if there is no further environmental degradation, the global HDI would be 19% higher by 2050 than it is today –that is more or less what we have seen between 1990 and 2010.  This is our “base case” scenario and also the “best case scenario”.  As you can see in slide 2, in the best case scenario developing countries would see the largest gains, with a 24% increase. Importantly, the projections suggest that HDI in Sub-Saharan Africa would increase by 44% : This would be the biggest increase in any region of the world—and one which would propel much of the continent into what are now classified as medium or high levels of human development achievement. 

But the Report also has a sobering central message, this scenario is very unlikely to happen unless we take bold steps today to avert future environmental calamities, ensure no further environmental degradation, and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations. 
So, the steady advances we have seen in human development across sub-Saharan Africa could stall and even reverse unless important action is taken. I understand this vulnerability has been felt deeply by the citizens of Accra recently as they fought to save their homes, family members and livelihoods from the flood waters which have caused so much damage..  I understand that you have been really affected by the intensity and unpredictability of the rains, so you understand these challenges very well!

To face these challenges there is lot we can do: Governments will need to play an important role by creating enabling conditions for sustainable development, including promoting public-private partnerships.   The report argues that it is important to view a clean and safe environment as a right and not a privilege.  Constitutions in at least 120 countries have addressed environmental norms and the state’s role in protecting the environment, and we have a lot of other good examples at the national level that can be replicated, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan developed by Ghana’s Disaster Management Organization, is a good example.  But let me also be clear, national action is not enough, action at the global level is also indispensable.

A coherent policy framework for sustainable development at the global level is needed.  This policy framework needs to be centered on a commitment to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, including ensuring gender equality and access to reproductive health services and combating HIV/AIDS, as well as improved trade conditions, and the mobilization of the necessary resources to keep AID commitments and the additionality demanded by climate change and adaptation.

The projections include two worse scenarios that take into account these threats and the risk of policy inaction:

Under the scenario of “environmental challenges”, which includes among others the impact of global warming on agricultural production and environmental challenges related to water, sanitation and pollution, as well as growing inequality and other related consequences such as a higher probability of intrastate conflict, the increase in global HDI is predicted to be 8% lower than in the “base case” overall, and 12 % lower in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Under an even more adverse “environmental disaster” scenario, which amplifies the magnitude of the impacts modeled, the global HDI would be 15 percent below the projected baseline in 2050.  Importantly, in this scenario the most dramatic impact would be in developing countries.  Sub-Saharan Africa human development would be 24% below the projected baseline, and South Asia, 22 % lower. 

In sub-Saharan Africa access to vital but already limited sources of energy could become further restricted - climate change could threaten agricultural production in a region that is already food insecure. For instance, projections factoring in the impact of environmental change suggest that maize and wheat production in Southern Africa will fall sharply through 2030.

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At the same time, we might expect that increasing global inequalities would be mirrored in deepening inequalities within countries as well. As shown in this figure, loss in HDI due to inequality in education, health, and income, is highest in low HDI countries (at 33 %) and less in very high HDI countries (at 11%). Although income inequality is high across the globe, this result is driven primarily by greater inequalities in health and education in lower HDI countries than other countries.  An increase in inequality globally, may therefore exacerbate and compound this situation.       

Key Messages

The Report delivers several key messages:

First, that those groups and individuals that are already disadvantaged bear the harshest repercussions from environmental deterioration. The poor rely on natural resources for their livelihoods, we know that poverty reduction cannot be sustained if the ecosystems on which we depend are irreparably damaged.   So the poor carry a “double burden” of exposure to environmental risks, both in their immediate home environment from air and water pollution and lack of sanitation, and from such long-term global trends as extreme weather hazards and rising sea levels. For example, preventable diseases directly linked to contaminated water and polluted air claim the lives of about three million children under five every year, mostly in Africa and South Asia; the equivalent of the entire under-five populations of Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal and Switzerland combined. 

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According to this year’s Report, some 1.7 billion people in 109 countries are living in ‘multidimensional’ poverty, a figure significantly larger than the 1.3 billion people estimated to live on or below US$1.25 a day.  But the report also explores the pervasiveness of environmental deprivation among the multidimensional poor – focusing on lack of improved cooking fuel, drinking water and sanitation – and the extent of overlap at the household level.  Of these 1.7 billion people, nearly 90% lack access to modern cooking fuels, 80% lack access to adequate sanitation, and 35% lack access to clean water.

There is also a significant overlap in the deprivations, with 80% of the Multi dimensional poor experiencing two or more deprivations and 29% facing all three. 

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There is however, significant regional variation as you can see in this slide.

The second key message tells us that major disparities in power shape these patterns of deprivation at the global and local levels.  For example, studies in the United States show that toxic waste facilities are disproportionately located in working class and minority neighborhoods, resulting in harmful effects on health and education. But we also see that empowering communities can have a positive impact on the environment. The Report cites a study of 61 countries which showed that the per capita number of women’s and environmental NGOs is negatively correlated with lower rates of deforestation. 

Another key message of the Report is that we will need innovative new approaches to development financing. Estimated funding needs in poorer countries for environmental protection greatly exceed current ODA levels (at$130 billion annually).  For example, the Report highlights that the lowest estimate of the total annual mitigation and adaptation costs to address climate change by 2030 is $249 billion, and to achieve the MDG water and sanitation targets the report reflects estimates that range from $6.7 billion a year to $75 billion.  Current funding for climate change adaptation and mitigation stands at only eleven percent of the lower bound of estimated needs, while financing for low-carbon energy production is only two percent of the lowest need estimate.  Available funding for water and sanitation is closer to that required, but this is partly because funding needs are relatively small.  More public as well as private investment is urgently needed; public funding alone is not able to provide the necessary resources for the investment required but also it is true that market forces alone will not suffice in solving the critical problems we face.

The Report advocates possible new public financing mechanisms, which merit serious consideration. This includes a new currency transaction tax as a major innovative source of finance.  The infrastructure to support such a tax is in place and even a small levy would generate substantial sums- a tax of only 0.005 percent on currency trading, for example, could yield some $40 billion annually, an amount that could be used to address critical needs in social and environmental protection. 

There may be other viable international funding options. For example, developed countries have committed to raising annually $100 billion of climate finance by 2020 and this financing can create a tipping point from which to catalyze much larger scale private investment for climate change adaptation in developing countries.  International public climate finance can be used to build robust policy environments and bring together diverse stakeholder groups.  By so doing, developing countries can actively encourage public private partnerships which will help transition to a pro-poor low-emission climate-resilient society.

Win-win-win solutions

The final key message of this year’s Report is forward looking and highlights the importance of finding positive synergies between policies that promote both sustainability and equity.  All countries and communities have the right to pursue high levels of development; and there are viable policy alternatives to the resource intensive economic engines of the past century.  New approaches to land use, energy generation, and transportation are essential and the Report makes concrete suggestions that countries can build on.

For example, the report highlights an example from my own country, Costa Rica, suggesting that forestry legislation of the late 1980s and active participation by civil society and investment in opportunities related to sustainable practices in sectors such as tourism, promoted a path to sustainable growth.   

One important proposal that fulfills the win-win-win requirement is the UN’s new “Sustainable energy for All” initiative.  The proposal is ambitious: to provide electricity to the one and a half billion people who now live entirely off the power grid.  As the report points out, we could get electricity to those one and a half billion people for about one-eighth of what we are already spending on fossil fuel subsidies worldwide. We could do this with existing clean technology and without causing even a one-percent rise in global carbon emissions. 

We know that basic electricity has an immediate impact on poor households: it allows school children to do homework at night and families to heat their homes and cook without being exposed to indoor smoke from solid fuel which contributes to 2 million deaths a year and contributes to climate change and deforestation.
However, despite its vast potential for off-grid renewable energy, sub-Saharan Africa’s experiences tremendous energy poverty and electrification has been particularly slow.  More than 60 percent of people living in sub-Saharan Africa have no access to electricity.

But there are replicable African success stories. For instance, Kenya's Ministry of Energy adopted a feed-in tariff in 2008 to supply and diversify electricity generation sources, generate income and employment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Public-private partnerships can be particularly useful in this regard.

Rankings and Indices

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. 

The three new indicators introduced in the 2010 report – the Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI), the Gender Inequality Index (GII) and the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) – are retained in the 2011 report, and offer a more nuanced understanding of what is captured by the rankings.

In closing let me stress: 
1)      Sustainable development is not a choice between continued human development progress and environmental preservation and Rio +20 should bring together all concerned stakeholders. 
2)      We must integrate equity into the design, implementation, and monitoring of policies, at both the global and national levels.
3)      We must help bridge the gap that separates policy-makers, negotiators and decision-makers from the citizens most vulnerable to environmental degradation by increasing accountability.  Giving the poor and marginalized, including women and indigenous people, a voice in decision making processes at local, national and global levels is valuable in and of itself, but it is also a prerequisite for ensuring equitable and sustainable human development.

Sub-Saharan Africa has taken encouraging steps to promote local and national participation in decision-making. It does better than most regions on the proportion of women in parliaments, with a regional average of nearly 20 percent, exceeding the global average of 18 percent.

To achieve equitable and sustainable human development, African countries must speed up progress in this direction – increasingly listening and being responsive to the needs of those most affected by climate and environmental degradation.

The Report argues persuasively that the technology is there, good policy models are there, and the resources are potentially there as well.  As we move toward Rio+20, we must highlight the urgent need to change our production and consumption patterns in order to prevent further environmental degradation. 
I hope this 2011 Report will help us all find new ways to move forward, working together for a better future for all.

Thank you.

UNDP Around the world