2011 Human Development Report: Environmental trends threaten global progress for the poor wo, nov 2, 2011

Advancement in health and income in developing countries jeopardized by inaction on climate change, habitat destruction, report shows

Environmental trends threaten global progress for the poor

Development progress in the world's poorest countries could be halted or even reversed by mid-century unless bold steps are taken now to slow climate change, prevent further environmental damage, and reduce deep inequalities within and among nations, according to projections in the 2011 Human Development Report, launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) here today.

The 2011 Report—Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All—argues that environmental sustainability can be most fairly and effectively achieved by addressing health, education, income, and gender disparities together with the need for global action on energy production and ecosystem protection. The Report was launched in Copenhagen today by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark with Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, whose new government has pledged to reduce Denmark's CO2 emissions by a dramatic 40 percent over the next 10 years.

As the world community prepares for the landmark UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, the Report argues that sustainability must be approached as a matter of basic social justice, for current and future generations alike.

"Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue, as this Report so persuasively argues," Helen Clark says in the foreword. "It is fundamentally about how we choose to live our lives, with an awareness that everything we do has consequences for the seven billions of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come."

The authors forecast that unchecked environmental deterioration—from drought in sub-Saharan Africa to rising sea levels that could swamp low-lying countries like Bangladesh—could cause food prices to soar by up to 50 percent and reverse efforts to expand water, sanitation and energy access to billions of people, notably in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

By 2050, in an "environmental challenge" scenario factoring in the effects of global warming on food production and pollution, the average HDI would be 12 percent lower in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa than would otherwise be the case, the Report estimates. Under an even more adverse "environmental disaster" situation—with vast deforestation, dramatic biodiversity declines and increasingly extreme weather—the global HDI would fall 15 percent below the baseline projection for 2050, with the deepest losses in the poorest regions.

Environmental deterioration could undermine decades of efforts to expand water, sanitation and electricity access to the world's poorest communities: "These absolute deprivations, important in themselves, are major violations of human rights," the authors say.

The Report argues that official transparency and independent watchdogs—including news media, civil society and courts—are vital to civic engagement in environmental policymaking. Some 120 national constitutions guarantee environmental protections, but in many countries there is little enforcement of these provisions, the Report says.

Bold global action is urgently required for sustainable development, but local initiatives to support poor communities can be both highly cost-effective and environmentally beneficial, the Report emphasizes. India's Rural Employment Guarantee Act cost about 0.5 percent of GDP in 2009 and benefited 45 million households—one-tenth of the labour force; Brazil's Bolsa Familia and Mexico's Oportunidades programmes cost about 0.4 percent of GDP and provide safety nets for about one-fifth of their populations.

Notes to Editors

UNEP will launch its "Global Environmental Outlook-5" (GEO -5) series, the UN's most authoritative assessment of the state, trends and outlook of the global environment in May, next year, one month ahead of the Rio+20 Conference taking place in Brazil.

The Rio + 20 Conference will focus on two major themes; the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and the institutional framework for sustainable development. It rests on integration and a balanced consideration of social, economic and environmental goals and objectives in both public and private decision-making.

The Human Development Report is an editorially independent publication of the United Nations Development Programme.

For free downloads of the 2011 Human Development Report in ten languages, plus additional reference materials on its indices and specific regional implications, please visit: http://hdr.undp.org.

 
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