Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Longer, The Costlier

One report of the United Nations that I regularly seek to read is the” Human Development Report” (HDR). Since 1990, the UN has produced these reports which seem to impact policies around the world. In 1990, the first Human Development Report opened with the simply stated premise: “People are the real wealth of a nation.” This statement couldn’t have been more appropriate. The empirical data these reports use and produce makes it so clear and with little ambiguity how countries are developing and how the people in these countries feel and see these developments. 

In this post and for the purpose of this blog, I am focusing on the 2011 Human Development Report under the theme “Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All”. The 2011 HDR clearly argued for the simultaneous addressing of the twin-challenge of sustainability. The report further identified policies on the national and global level that could spur mutually reinforcing progress towards these interlinked goals.

The various environmental challenge including anticipated adverse effects of climate change on agricultural production, access to clean water and improved sanitation, and pollution comes in to compound the issues of the already poor in the society. Under a scenario encompassing the environmental challenges mentioned, the report projected that the average global Human Development Index (HDI) value would be 8% lower by 2050 than under the “base case” scenario, which assumes a continuation but not a worsening of current environmental trends. HDI is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education, and income indices used to rank countries into four tiers of human development: very high, high, medium and low human development. 

For places like South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, it was projected that average regional HDI would be 12% lower under challenging environmental scenario than it is now by the year 2050. Under a more severe “environmental disaster” scenario, the global HDI value in 2050 would fall 15% below the current baseline — 22% below in South Asia and 24% below in Sub-Saharan Africa, effectively halting or even reversing decades of human development progress in both regions.

As much as I do not like the doomsday prophecies associated with impacts of climate change, sometimes I cannot help but talk about it. The possible impact of environmental degradation, under which climate change falls, is so serious and yet nothing much seems to be done about it. Under any kind of scenario that one wishes to look at with regards to the impact of environmental degradation, the already poor and marginalised people can only get poorer. Billions of people will be worse off in, let’s say 20150, living in extreme income poverty than they are now. The 2011 HDR also projects that environmental calamities would keep some 800 million poor people from rising out of extreme income poverty, under an environmental challenge scenario.

It is a fact that environmental threats are among the major impediments to lifting human development, and their consequences for poverty are likely to be high. But such an obvious challenge is not being addressed head-on in the manner it should be. Many meetings and treaties have come and gone and yet not much has changed for the better. 

The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be. We need not wait to say sorry. As each day passes our chances of solving a problem also passes.


  1. Great Analysis. A thought on it has been suggestions from some economists that the expected hardship from environmental degradation will drive technological advancement that will ensure that in the future we are less dependent on environmental resources. What will be your take on that.

    1. Kwame, that will be great! But I wonder how that will happen so easily whenever I think about it. What resources will we depend on and from what will the new resources that will will 'replace' environmental resources be made? These are thoughts that I keep considering. So far, our engineers and technologists doesn't seem to have be driven enough.


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