Human Development Report 2011
|The 2011 Report—Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All—released by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on November 2, 2011, notes that Norway, Australia and the Netherlands lead the world in the 2011 Human Development Index (HDI), while the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Niger and Burundi are at the bottom of the Human Development Report’s annual rankings of national achievement in health, education and income.
The United States, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany and Sweden round out the top 10 countries in the 2011 HDI, but when the Index is adjusted for internal inequalities in health, education and income, some of the wealthiest nations drop out of the HDI’s top 20: the United States falls from #4 to #23, the Republic of Korea from #15 to #32, and Israel from #17 to #25.
India is ranked 134, the same as in 2010. Gender Inequality Index ranks India at 129 and Inequality Adjusted HDI rank is 93.
The 2011 HDI covers a record 187 countries and territories, up from 169 in 2010, reflecting in part improved data availability for many small island states of the Caribbean and the Pacific.
The 2011 Report also notes that income distribution has worsened in most of the world, with Latin America remaining the most unequal region in income terms, even though several countries, including Brazil and Chile, are narrowing internal income gaps. Yet in overall IHDI terms, including life expectancy and schooling, Latin America is more equitable than sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
To assess income distribution, as well as varying levels of life expectancy and schooling within national populations, the IHDI uses methodology developed by the renowned British economist Sir Anthony Barnes Atkinson.
Average HDI levels have risen greatly since 1970—41 percent globally and 61 percent in today’s low-HDI countries—reflecting major overall gains in health, education and income. The 2011 HDI charts progress over five years to show recent national trends: 72 nations moved up in rank from 2006 to 2011, led by Cuba (+10 to #51), Venezuela and Tanzania (+7 each to #73 and #152, respectively), while another 72 fell in rank, including Kuwait (-8 to #63) and Finland (-7 to #22).
The 10 countries that place last in the 2011 HDI are all in sub-Saharan Africa: Guinea, Central African Republic, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Chad, Mozambique, Burundi, Niger, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII) shows that Sweden leads the world in gender equality, as measured by this composite index of reproductive health, years of schooling, parliamentary representation, and participation in the labour market. Sweden is followed in the gender inequality rankings by the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Norway, Germany, Singapore, Iceland and France.
Yemen ranks as the least equitable of the 146 countries in the GII, followed by Chad, Niger, Mali, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan, Papua New Guinea, Liberia, Central African Republic and Sierra Leone.
The Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI) examines factors at the family level—such as access to clean water and cooking fuel and health services, as well as basic household goods and home construction standards—that together provide a fuller portrait of poverty than income measurements alone.
Some 1.7 billion people in 109 countries lived in ‘multi-dimensional’ poverty in the decade ending in 2010, by the MPI calculus, or almost a third of the countries’ entire combined population of 5.5 billion. That compares to the 1.3 billion people estimated to live on US$1.25 a day or less, the measure used in the UN Millennium Development Goals, which seeks to eradicate “extreme” poverty by 2015.
Niger has the highest share of multi-dimensionally poor, at 92 percent of the population, followed by Ethiopia and Mali, with 89 percent and 87 percent, respectively. The 10 poorest nations as measured by the MPI are all in sub-Saharan Africa. But the largest group of multi-dimensionally poor is South Asian: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have some of the highest absolute numbers of MPI poor.
India has by far the largest number of multi-dimensionally poor, according to the Report–612 million, more than half the country’s population, and larger than the total number of people measured according to the same criteria in all sub-Saharan countries.
The MPI also provides insight into environmental problems in the poorest households, including indoor air pollution and disease from contaminated water supplies. The Report notes that in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, more than 90 percent of the multi-dimensionally poor cannot afford clean cooking fuel, relying principally on firewood, while some 85 percent lack basic sanitation services.
The 2011 Human Development Report offers important new contributions to the global dialogue on this challenge, showing how sustainability is inextricably linked to basic questions of equity—that is, of fairness and social justice and of greater access to a better quality of life. Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as the Report so persuasively argues. It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives, with an awareness that everything we do has consequences for the 7 billion of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come.
Understanding the links between environmental sustainability and equity is critical if we are to expand human freedoms for current and future generations. The remarkable progress in human development over recent decades, which the global Human Development Reports have documented, cannot continue without bold global steps to reduce both environmental risks and inequality. The Report identifies pathways for people, local communities, countries and the international community to promote environmental sustainability and equity in mutually reinforcing ways.
In the 176 countries and territories where the United Nations Development Programme is working every day, 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 coping tools. They must also deal with threats to their immediate environment from indoor air pollution, dirty water and unimproved sanitation. Forecasts suggest that continuing failure to reduce the grave environmental risks and deepening social inequalities threatens to slow decades of sustained progress by the world’s poor majority—and even to reverse the global convergence in human development.
Major disparities in power shape these patterns. New analysis shows how power imbalances and gender inequalities at the national level are linked to reduced access to clean water and improved sanitation, land degradation and deaths due to indoor and outdoor air pollution, amplifying the effects associated with income disparities. Gender inequalities also interact with environmental outcomes and make them worse. At the global level governance arrangements often weaken the voices of developing countries and exclude marginalized groups.
Yet, there are alternatives to inequality and un-sustainability. Growth driven by fossil fuel consumption is not a prerequisite for a better life in broader human development terms. Investments that improve equity—in access, for example, to renewable energy, water and sanitation, and reproductive healthcare—could advance both sustainability and human development. Stronger accountability and democratic processes, in part through support for an active civil society and media, can also improve outcomes. Successful approaches rely on community management, inclusive institutions that pay particular attention to disadvantaged groups, and cross-cutting approaches that coordinate budgets and mechanisms across government agencies and development partners.
The financing needed for development—including for environmental and social protection— will have to be many times greater than current official development assistance. Today’s spending on low-carbon energy sources, for example, is only 1.6 percent of even the lowest estimate of need, while spending on climate change adaptation and mitigation is around 11 percent of estimated need. Hope rests on new climate finance. While market mechanisms and private funding will be vital, they must be supported and leveraged by proactive public investment. Beyond raising new sources of funds to address pressing environmental threats equitably, the Report advocates reforms that promote equity and voice. Financing flows need to be channelled towards the critical challenges of un-sustainability and inequity— and not exacerbate existing disparities.
Human development, which is about expanding people’s choices, builds on shared natural resources. Promoting human development requires addressing sustainability—locally, nationally and globally—and this can and should be done in ways that are equitable and empowering, says the Report.
The environmental disaster scenario leads to a turning point before 2050 in developing countries—their convergence with rich countries in HDI achievements begins to reverse. These projections suggest that in many cases the most disadvantaged people bear and will continue to bear the repercussions of environmental deterioration, even if they contribute little to the problem. For example, low HDI countries have contributed the least to global climate change, but they have experienced the greatest loss in rainfall and the greatest increase in its variability, with implications for agricultural production and livelihoods.
Around the world rising HDI has been associated with environmental degradation. Countries with faster improvements in the HDI have also experienced faster increases in carbon dioxide emissions per capita. These changes over time—rather than the snapshot relationship—highlight what to expect tomorrow as a result of development today.
On the other hand, while incomes and economic growth have an important explanatory role for emissions, the relationship is not deterministic. And complex interactions of broader forces change the risk patterns. For example, international trade allows countries to outsource the production of goods that degrade the environment; large-scale commercial use of natural resources has different impacts than subsistence exploitation; and urban and rural environmental profiles differ.
Several countries have achieved significant progress both in the HDI and in equity and environmental sustainability. Sweden is notable for its high reforestation rate compared with regional and global averages.
More generally, however, environmental trends over recent decades show deterioration on several fronts, with adverse repercussions for human development, especially for the millions of people who depend directly on natural resources for their livelihoods. Globally, nearly 40 percent of land is degraded due to soil erosion, reduced fertility and overgrazing. Land productivity is declining, with estimated yield loss as high as 50 percent in the most adverse scenarios. Agriculture accounts for 70–85 percent of water use, and an estimated 20 percent of global grain production uses water un-sustainably, imperilling future agricultural growth.
Deforestation is a major challenge. Between 1990 and 2010, Latin America and the Caribbean and Sub-Saharan Africa experienced the greatest forest losses, followed by the Arab States. The other regions have seen minor gains in forest cover. Desertification threatens the dry-lands that are home to about a third of the world’s people. Some areas are particularly vulnerable—notably Sub-Saharan Africa, where the dry-lands are highly sensitive and adaptive capacity is low.
Adverse environmental factors are expected to boost world food prices 30–50 percent in real terms in the coming decades and to increase price volatility, with harsh repercussions for poor households. The largest risks are faced by the 1.3 billion people involved in agriculture, fishing, forestry, hunting and gathering.
To the extent that women in poor countries are disproportionately involved in subsistence farming and water collection, they face greater adverse consequences of environmental degradation. Many indigenous peoples also rely heavily on natural resources and live in ecosystems especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as small, island developing States, arctic regions and high altitudes.
Evidence suggests that traditional practices can protect natural resources, yet such knowledge is often overlooked or downplayed. The effects of climate change on farmers’ livelihoods depend on the crop, region and season, underlining the importance of in-depth, local analysis. Impacts will also differ depending on household production and consumption patterns, access to resources, poverty levels and ability to cope. Taken together, however, the net biophysical impacts of climate change on irrigated and rain-fed crops by 2050 will likely be negative—and worst in low HDI countries.
The MPI measures serious deficits in health, education and living standards, looking at both the number of deprived people and the intensity of their deprivations. This year the report explores the pervasiveness of environmental deprivations among the multi-dimensionally poor and their overlaps at the household level, an innovation in the MPI.
The poverty-focused lens allows us to examine environmental deprivations in access to modern cooking fuel, clean water and basic sanitation, the report says. These absolute deprivations, important in themselves, are major violations of human rights. Ending these deprivations could increase higher order capabilities, expanding people’s choices and advancing human development.
In developing countries at least 6 people in 10 experience one of these environmental deprivations, and 4 in 10 experience two or more. These deprivations are especially acute among multi-dimensionally poor people, more than 9 in 10 of whom experience at least one. Most suffer overlapping deprivations: 8 in 10 multi-dimensionally poor people have two or more, and nearly 1 in 3 (29 percent) is deprived in all three. These environmental deprivations disproportionately contribute to multi-dimensional poverty, accounting for 20 percent of the MPI—above their 17 percent weight in the index. Across most developing countries deprivations are highest in access to cooking fuel, though lack of water is paramount in several Arab States.
Countries with the lowest share of poor people facing at least one deprivation are mainly in the Arab States and Latin American and the Caribbean (7 of the top 10). Of the countries with the fewest multi-dimensionally poor people with all three environmental deprivations, better performers are concentrated in South Asia—5 of the top 10. Several South Asian countries have reduced some environmental deprivations, notably access to potable water, even as other deprivations have remained severe. And five countries are in both top 10 lists—not only is their environmental poverty relatively low, it is also less intense.
The disease burden arising from indoor and outdoor air pollution, dirty water and unimproved sanitation is greatest for people in poor countries, especially for deprived groups. Indoor air pollution kills 11 times more people living in low HDI countries than people elsewhere. Disadvantaged groups in low, medium and high HDI countries face greater risk from outdoor air pollution because of both higher exposure and greater vulnerability. In low HDI countries more than 6 people in 10 lack ready access to improved water, while nearly 4 in 10 lack sanitary toilets, contributing to both disease and malnourishment. Climate change threatens to worsen these disparities through the spread of tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever and through declining crop yields.
Despite near universal primary school enrolment in many parts of the world, gaps remain. Nearly 3 in 10 children of primary school age in low HDI countries are not even enrolled in primary school, and multiple constraints, some environmental, persist even for enrolled children. Lack of electricity, for example, has both direct and indirect effects. Electricity access can enable better lighting, allowing increased study time, as well as the use of modern stoves, reducing time spent collecting fuel wood and water, activities shown to slow education progress and lower school enrolment.
Girls are more often adversely affected because they are more likely to combine resource collection and schooling. Access to clean water and improved sanitation is also especially important for girls’ education, affording them health gains, time savings and privacy.
Household environmental deprivations can coincide with wider environmental stresses, constricting people’s choices in a wide range of contexts and making it harder to earn a living from natural resources: people have to work more to achieve the same returns or may even have to migrate to escape environmental degradation.
Environmental stress has also been linked to an increased likelihood of conflict. The link is not direct, however, and is influenced by the broader political economy and contextual factors that make individuals, communities and society vulnerable to the effects of environmental degradation.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII), updated this year for 145 countries, shows how reproductive health constraints contribute to gender inequality. This is important because in countries where effective control of reproduction is universal, women have fewer children, with attendant gains for maternal and child health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, in Cuba, Mauritius, Thailand and Tunisia, where reproductive healthcare and contraceptives are readily available, fertility rates are below two births per woman. But substantial unmet need persists worldwide, and evidence suggests that if all women could exercise reproductive choice, population growth would slow enough to bring greenhouse gas emissions below current levels.
Meeting unmet need for family planning by 2050 would lower the world’s carbon emissions an estimated 17 percent below what they are today.
The GII also focuses on women’s participation in political decision-making, highlighting that women lag behind men across the world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and the Arab States. This has important implications for sustainability and equity. Because women often shoulder the heaviest burden of resource collection and are the most exposed to indoor air pollution, they are often more affected than men by decisions related to natural resources. Recent studies reveal that not only is women’s participation important but also how they participate—and how much.
And because women often show more concern for the environment, support pro-environmental policies and vote for pro-environmental leaders, their greater involvement in politics and in non-governmental organizations could result in environmental gains, with multiplier effects across all the Millennium Development Goals.
These arguments are not new, but they reaffirm the value of expanding women’s effective freedoms. Thus, women’s participation in decision-making has both intrinsic value and instrumental importance in addressing equity and environmental degradation.
Evidence is accumulating that power inequalities, mediated through political institutions, affect environmental outcomes in a range of countries and contexts. This means that poor people and other disadvantaged groups disproportionately suffer the effects of environmental degradation. New analysis for the Report covering some 100 countries confirms that greater equity in power distribution, broadly defined, is positively associated with better environmental outcomes, including better access to water, less land degradation and fewer deaths due to indoor and outdoor air pollution and dirty water—suggesting an important scope for positive synergies.
The large disparities across people, groups and countries that add to the large and growing environmental threats pose massive policy challenges. But there is cause for optimism. In many respects the conditions today are more conducive to progress than ever—given innovative policies and initiatives in some parts of the world. Taking the debate further entails bold thinking, especially on the eve of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and the dawn of the post-2015 era. The Report advances a new vision for promoting human development through the joint lens of sustainability and equity.
A key theme of the Report is the need to fully integrate equity concerns into policies that affect the environment. Traditional methods of assessing environmental policies fall short. They might expose the impacts on the path of future emissions, for example, but they are often silent on distributive issues. Even when the effects on different groups are considered, attention is typically restricted to people’s incomes. The importance of equity and inclusion is already explicit in the objectives of green economy policies. The report proposes taking the agenda further.
Embedding environmental rights in national constitutions and legislation can be effective, not least by empowering citizens to protect such rights. At least 120 countries have constitutions that address environmental norms. And many countries without explicit environmental rights interpret general constitutional provisions for individual rights to include a fundamental right to a healthy environment.
Constitutionally recognizing equal rights to a healthy environment promotes equity by no longer limiting access to those who can afford it. And embodying this right in the legal framework can affect government priorities and resource allocations.
Alongside legal recognition of equal rights to a healthy, well functioning environment is the need for enabling institutions, including a fair and independent judiciary, and the right to information from governments and corporations. The international community, too, increasingly recognizes a right to environmental information.
Where governments are responsive to popular concerns, change is more likely. An environment in which civil society thrives also engenders accountability at the local, national and global levels, while freedom of press is vital in raising awareness and facilitating public participation.
The Report proposes an emphasis on four country-level sets of tools to take this agenda forward:
• Low-emission, climate-resilient strategies—to align human development, equity and climate change goals.
• Public-private partnerships—to catalyse capital from businesses and households.
• Climate deal-flow facilities—to bring about equitable access to international public finance.
• Coordinated implementation and monitoring, reporting and verification systems—to bring about long-term, efficient results and accountability to local populations as well as partners.
Finally, it calls for a high-profile, global Universal Energy Access Initiative with advocacy and awareness and dedicated support to developing clean energy at the country level. Such an initiative could kick-start efforts to shift from incremental to transformative change.
The Report casts light on the links between sustainability and equity and shows how human development can become more sustainable and more equitable. It reveals how environmental degradation hurts poor and vulnerable groups more than others.