UNDP calls for the easing of planetary pressures as the next frontier for human development

January 13, 2021

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Nairobi, 13 January 2021: The COVID-19 pandemic, the latest crisis facing the world is already threatening a reversal in many fundamental aspects of human development. However, 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).

The 2020 Human Development Report (HDR) doubles down on the belief that people’s agency and empowerment can bring about the action we need, if we are to live in balance with the planet in a fairer world. It shows that we are at an unprecedented moment in history, in which human activity has become a dominant force shaping the planet. These impacts interact with existing inequalities, threatening significant development reversals. Nothing short of a great transformation – in how we live, work and cooperate – is needed to change the path we are on.

Speaking at the Kenya launch organised by UNDP in collaboration with the National Treasury, Hon. Nelson Gaichuhie, Chief Administrative Secretary, National Treasury and Planning noted that sustainable development cannot be mere rhetoric; it must be accompanied by transparent, participatory mechanisms that allow for meaningful discussion of the development paths that make growth truly sustainable. “While growth in national production is absolutely necessary to meet all essential human objectives, what is important is to study how this growth translates - or fails to translate - into a balance in human development and environmental conservation.”

The report which includes a new experimental index on human progress takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint and lays out stark choices 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.

“Though humanity has achieved incredible progress, we have taken the earth for granted, as a result, our planet and societies are flashing red. Our actions – are driving not just climate change and biodiversity collapse, but ocean acidification, air and water pollution and land degradation. We are destabilizing the very systems upon which we rely on for survival at unprecedented speed and scale – as witnessed through numerous incidents. Here in Kenya for instance, Lakes Baringo, Naivasha and parts of Lake Victoria have in the recent times experienced a dangerous increase of water levels which have submerged homes and destroyed livelihoods. As UNDP, we are working with key stakeholders, under the leadership of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, to understand the underlying causes for these water level rises and to put in place measures to mitigate these impacts and to prevent a future reoccurrence of these manmade pressures on the environment. These are the measures that this global report calls for.” said, Walid Badawi, UNDP Resident Representative for Kenya.

The report argues that as people and planet enter an entirely new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, it is time to 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.

It took Covid-19 very little time to expose and exploit overlapping inequalities, as well as weaknesses in social, economic, and political systems, and threaten reversals in human development. Many scientists believe that for the first time, instead of the planet shaping humans, humans are knowingly shaping the planet. 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.

“Knowledge alone is not sufficient to help humanity, it has to go hand in hand with the right values and ethics. Unless we have the compassion for the planet, we will not achieve sustainable development. The evidence in this report shows that we must find a balance between our human freedoms, ambition and taking care of the planet” reflected, Prof. Stephen Gitahi Kiama, Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi

According to the report, easing planetary pressures in a way that enables all people to flourish in this new age requires dismantling the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that stand in the way of transformation. Public action, the report argues, can address these inequalities, with examples ranging from increasingly progressive taxation, to protecting coastal communities through preventive investment and insurance, a move that could safeguard the lives of 840 million people who live along the world’s low elevation coastlines. But there must be a concerted effort to ensure that actions do not further pit people against planet.

“Over the years, Kenya has made progress towards the realization of human development through implementation of successive development plans. However, Kenya remains most vulnerable to climate change since the key drivers of the economy (agriculture, livestock, tourism, forestry, and fisheries) are climate sensitive. As a result, climate change has the potential to abate the development gains made including hindering progress towards the attainment of the Kenya Vision 2030.” noted, Dr. Chris K. Kiptoo, CBS Principal Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forestry


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