The next frontier: Human development and the Anthropocene
Thirty years ago, UNDP created a new way to conceive and measure progress. Instead of using growth in GDP as the sole measure of development, we ranked the world’s countries by their human development: by whether people in each country have the freedom and opportunity to live the lives they value.
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. The Report explores how to jumpstart that transformation.
The climate crisis. Biodiversity collapse. Ocean acidification. The list is long and growing longer. So much so that many scientists believe that for the first time, instead of the planet shaping humans, humans are knowingly shaping the planet. This is the Anthropocene – the Age of Humans - a new geologic epoch.
Though humanity has achieved incredible progress, we have taken the Earth for granted, destabilizing the very systems upon which we rely for survival. Covid-19, which almost certainly sprang to humans from animals, offers a glimpse of our future, in which the strain on our planet mirrors the strain facing societies. 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.
While the devastating effects of Covid-19 have taken the world’s attention, other layered crises, from climate change to rising inequalities, continue to take their toll. The challenges of planetary and societal imbalance are intertwined: they interact in a vicious circle, each making the other worse.
How should we react to this new age? Do we choose to strike out on bold new paths striving to continue human development while easing planetary pressures? Or do we choose to try—and ultimately fail—to go back to business as usual and be swept into a dangerous unknown?
This Human Development Report is firmly behind the first choice, and its arguments go beyond summarizing well-known lists of what can be done to achieve it.
Part I of the report has three chapters sequentially exploring analytical, empirical and policy perspectives on how human development relates the Anthropocene. Part II considers the implications for action, discussing three key mechanisms for change: social norms and values, incentives and regulation, and nature-based human development. Part III proposes new metrics, including an adjustment to the Human Development Index to account for planetary pressures.