HDR 2020: The Age of Humans
January 12, 2021
The UN’s Development Program has since 1990 issued an annual Human Development Report that explores a particular socioeconomic topic. The purpose of the HDR is to raise “awareness about human development around the world.”
The 2020 HDR highlights the need to deal with the impacts of human activities on natural systems. The HDR warns that humankind is on the cusp of a new global epoch, the Anthropocene or the era when human activities alter natural systems, perhaps irreversibly. The HDR calls for changing the trajectory of economic development to minimize the competition between the needs of people and the needs of the planet.
The three-part report reviews the impacts of human activities on natural systems, lays out a framework to reduce the negative impacts of human activities on the environment, and develops a revised Human Development Index that accounts for each country’s impacts on the natural world.
Impacts. HDR 2020 argues that Covid-19, extreme weather events, wildfires, and species extinctions are nature’s warning signs that are flashing red to suggest an urgent need to reduce human impacts on natural systems. The report argues that social inequalities aggravate planetary or natural imbalances, citing a list of indicators that range from declining social mobility to rising authoritarianism.
Social inequalities aggravate natural imbalances
The current Holocene era began when the end of the ice age 12,000 years ago led to the rise of agriculture and civilization. During the Holocene era, humans adapted to nature. In the new Anthropocene era, human activities are reshaping nature.
One of the best-known features of the HDR is its Human Development Index, which assembles indicators of health, education, and income to rank countries. The HDR argues that the empty rectangle C in the figure below is where countries should be, with a high HDI and a low material footprint on the environment. In fact, high HDI countries are in rectangle B with high material footprints. If the developing countries now in rectangle A move to B as well, the natural world will be changed.
Richer countries with higher HDIs (B) have larger impacts on natural systems
The 2020 HDR includes a Planetary-Pressures Adjusted HDI that eliminates over 50 countries from the very high human development group because of their dependence on fossil fuels and materials that alter natural systems. The richer countries with high HDIs (dark green) rank significantly lower on the PP HDI because of their greater impacts on natural systems. Note that countries whose ranking on the HDI is the same as their ranking on the PP HDI are on the 45-degree line.
Richer countries with high HDIs have lower PP HDIs because of their impacts on the environment
The report places more emphasis on reducing carbon emissions and material usage than on population growth. The HDR emphasizes that urbanization may slow population growth and reduce energy and materials usage, citing studies of insects that show larger termite mounds use less energy and materials per capita.
The world’s population of almost 8 billion is growing by 1% a year
Change. HDR 2020 cites polls that suggest most people understand that human activities are changing natural systems. Most respondents agree that individuals should change behavior to reduce negative human impacts on the environment. The report calls on governments to subsidize sustainable policies by promoting the development of low-carbon power emitters such as renewables.
Sustainable policies (dark green) require more government subsidies
The report emphasizes inequalities between rich and poor countries. Rich countries contribute most to the global warming that aggravates extreme weather and other conditions that disproportionately affect people in poorer countries. Mortality from climate change is projected to be larger in poorer countries in 2100.
Mortality risks from climate change are highest in poorer countries
The 2020 report adjusts the HDI for each country’s planetary pressure. The Scandinavian countries that are at the top of the regular HDI are also at the top of the PP HDI, but countries such as Canada and the US fall in the shift from the HDI to the PP HDI, while middle-income countries such as Costa Rica rise on the PP HDI.
Norway ranks highest on the HDI, but Ireland ranks highest on the PP HDI
|SDG 9.4||SDG 8.4, 12.2|
|Human Development Index (HDI)||Planetary pressures–adjusted HDI (PHDI)||Adjustment factor for planetary pressures||Carbon dioxide emissions per capita (production)||Carbon dioxide emissions (production) index||Material footprint per capita||Material footprint index|
|Value||Value||Difference from HDI value (%)||Difference from HDI rank||Value||(tonnes)||Value||(tonnes)||Value|
|Very high human development|
|4||Hong Kong, China (SAR)||0.949||..||..||..||..||5.9||0.916||..||..|
|23||Korea (Republic of)||0.916||0.746||18.6||–19||0.814||12.9||0.816||28.6||0.813|
|31||United Arab Emirates||0.890||0.609||31.6||–87||0.685||21.3||0.694||49.6||0.675|