A webinar consultation for Sustainable Human Development Pathways to inform Human Development Report (HDR) 2020 was held on 21 May 2020, in continuation to the rich online e-discussion that took place on the Global Thinkers Platform from 11 March – 30 April 2020. The webinar consultation was co-organized by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) and United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report Office (HDRO). The objective of the consultation is to seek inputs from Southern think tanks, who are members of the South-South Global Thinkers initiative, to stimulate discussion in order to enrich and sharpen the focus of the report and ensure that it represents diverse views from the global South.
This consultation was in continuation of the rich online e-discussion that took place on the South-South Global Thinkers Platform between 11 March – 30 April 2020. Inputs from the e-discussion have brought forward diverse and important perspectives. These were on topics ranging from suggested indicators for greening the HDI, to the role of social protection policies to ways of leveraging South-South and triangular cooperation for addressing climate-related risks. The issue of COVID-19 also informed the discussion.
The objective of webinar consultation was to further maximize stakeholder engagement and ensure inclusive preparation of the HDR 2020. This consultation aimed to: (i) hear stakeholder’s perspectives and experiences from Southern-based think tanks relating to sustainable development pathways, climate change and related sub-themes, identify broad contours, and scope on the specific issues; and (ii) discuss key policy options among the stakeholders, including both national and cross border cooperation through bilateral and multilateral mechanisms.
The event was moderated by Ms. Xiaojun Grace Wang, Deputy Director, UNOSSC and featured presentations from representatives of the Southern think-tanks.
Ms. Wang welcomed the participants and introduced the objectives of the virtual consultations, followed by opening remarks by Mr. Jorge Chediek, Director UNOSSC and Mr. Pedro Conceicao, Director of UNDP Human Development Report Office.
Mr. Jorge Chediek highlighted the importance of this year’s HDR, especially being the 30th Anniversary edition. The launch of the HDR opened a new line of thinking – a revolutionary attempt to expand the scope of our view on how to measure progress. However, the emergence of new challenges such as climate change, digital economy, the emergence of some countries in the south, devolution of the international architecture and pandemics keeps the process iterative. Mr. Chediek commended the continued partnership with HDRO and commitment of the southern think tanks and underlined the need to capitalize on this for horizontal knowledge sharing from the South and learning from each other in the spirit of South-South cooperation.
Mr. Pedro Conceicao acknowledged the partnership between UNDP and UNOSSC that started in 2019 and hence, serves as an early on investment in this year’s process. Since the concept of the HDI originally came from the south, engaging with the South is at its core. He reiterated the importance of this year’s report given the magnitude of the theme it intends to tackle i.e. Sustainable Human Development Pathways. The report tries to bring together the aspiration of the human development (HD) approach, which is to expand human freedom and people’s capabilities and to do so, in the context of environmental sustainability and climate change. Natural scientists at the turn of the 21st century started highlighting a number of ways in which human activity is changing systems at planetary levels in an unprecedented way. This is what this year’s report intends to tackle -— Understanding the concept of Human Development in the context where humans are the geological force, exploring opportunities to continue to expand the concept of HD, drawing on the potential of technologies and how to reflect these new challenges in the matrix in the way we measure human development and need to add/ modify the indices to capture these new issues.
Presentation on Upcoming Human Development Report 2020 on Sustainable Development Pathways:
Mr. Heriberto Tapia, from HRDO, presented the business case highlighting the problems, questions and complexities that the report intends to address and welcome inputs from the think tanks in areas exploring answers. In addition to the historic importance being the 30th year edition, the report will allow to rethink the human development journey. Over a period of 30 years, there has been improvement in human development; however, today’s complexity of issues will require insights on how to reshape development going forward. Issues such as loss of biodiversity, i.e. declining populations of plants and animal species, unstable patterns of production and consumption, and pressures on the ecosystem as a source of pandemics put earth system under pressure. The other element is climate change where we have started seeing its which require urgent action.
Human Development is connected with sustainability and even in developed countries, serious underlying problems are resulting such as growing inequalities. There may not be gain in capabilities despite technological progress and an increase in accumulated income and years. In this context, the results of the HDR 2019 report highlighted the changes over the last decade accessing certain proxies of development, for example, convergence in mobile/ cellular subscription which is most basic form of digital technology vs fixed broadband which is a more empowering form of. With current COVID-19 pandemic, it shows how this is affecting countries’ capabilities to respond to the current challenge. Other examples of growing inequalities showed how the advantageous groups are making more progress and, at the same time, others are lagging behind, thus enhancing demand for sustainability and rethinking human development.
The presentation also highlighted the areas that the upcoming report will be exploring: with focus on people-centered, earth-centered policies such as social norms and values, technological progress, nature-based solutions, incentives and prices i.e., the role of the private and public sector and collective action. The participation of the South in this regard is crucial. This will require new measurement for a new policy priority that goes beyond income, is disaggregated and forwarding looking. Given the technological advancement, this will also require looking into new sources of data such as geospatial and big data, in addition to a new generation of composite indices and revision of the HDI.
Below are some of the perspectives and inputs that were shared by the participating Southern think tanks and researchers.
Role of Climate Change in Sustainable Development:
Prof. (Dr.) Hebatallah Adam from the Jindal Centre for the Global South highlighted climate change as a global threat. Developing countries are among the most adversely affected by climate change and are least able to afford the consequences, in terms of poverty, natural disasters, gaps in education etc., resulting in deprivation of gains and even reversals of the development progress made. She presented Southern perspectives comprising of four pillars to deal with climate change i) Market efficiency by increasing renewable energy production and efficiency in material consumption. Also, enabling efficient market conditions where prices include the societal cost of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmental externalities. Investment in higher efficiency in energy and material use and investment in carbon natural options are appropriately rewarded. ii) Increase in mitigation investment i.e. increase in clean energy investment focusing on efficiency improvement and energy decarbonization. These investments will make the system transition to zero-carbon energy and minimize potential trade-offs vis-a-vis the SDGs. Also, moving towards innovative climate finance, for example by mobilizing commercial banks through innovative financial schemes to facilitate households’ access to small scale renewable technologies and efficient appliances, initiating green credit lines, for example providing appropriate funding and technical support through banks and financial institutions for enhanced participation in the renewable energy sector. iii) International cooperation for enhancing capacities of developing countries through a global call for action and also through South-S cooperation. iv) Gender-responsive (Feminist) climate actions where women can be more powerful agents in advancing health rights, including women in leadership roles and decision making, and supporting employment and business opportunities for women in the renewable energy sector.
Greening the Human Development:
Dr. Carlos R. S. Milani, from the Rio de Janeiro State University, emphasized the need for qualitative and quantitative mapping of the vulnerabilities and the existing socioenvironmental conflicts in different regions and subregions. He also highlighted the interconnectedness and challenge of assessing vulnerabilities across regions and countries, in addition to the impacts across sectors. The mapping of regional and local vulnerabilities would reveal the social and environmental problems that can impact human development in the global South. This will also inform future policies and line of actions.
On how to operate the greening of HDI, Dr. Carlos pointed out that the HDR 2018 acknowledged that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require new indicators for assessing the many faces of inequality, and the impact of the global environmental crisis on people today and tomorrow. Some examples can be looked into include: Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW): Desai (1995) has developed an ‘index of intensity of environmental exploitation’; and Eric Neumayer’s proposal (2004) of measuring sustainability through Genuine Savings (GS). However, the choice of indicators is political, because sustainable development implies thinking of: (a) intergenerational responsibility; (b) common but differentiated responsibilities; (c) economic and technological changes through adaptation and mitigation; (d) the precautionary principle.
Dr. Arunabha Ghosh, from the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), underlined mainstreaming the range of issues highlighted during the discussion which were not at the center of the discussion previously and hence looking at the new matrix and solutions needed. He emphasized that a lot of progress made in human development over the years might be reversed due to the planetary shocks that we are facing, which are chronic in nature. A risk lens needs to be built in while bolstering South-South cooperation and maintaining resilience. He also proposed having a climate risk atlas that enables not only an understanding of the hazards of the past but also the different layers for assessing loss and damage that comes from it. This will enable as an assessment of the investments made today in hard or soft infrastructure invested in the decade of sustainable development. He also highlighted the value of pooling risks and setting up of a fund for a collective response that will contribute to flattening the overall risk curve as these risks vary from country to country.
Human Security and Sustainable Development:
Dr. Zhang Chuanhong, China Agricultural University, highlighted the need for strong political will and corrective policies to keep track of sustainable human development, especially in the context of the global pandemic. The current trend of the economic recession caused by the current pandemic reminds us of the opportunity to reflect and correct our actions by working together to overcome the issue. She added that deficiency of financial resources which is usually considered as a major issue. According to the UNCTAD 2019 report, actions such as curbing hidden capital transfer and tax evasion can generate $700 billion dollars for developing countries alone. Governments are putting in huge money of domestic and global market resources She emphasized a more inclusive and sustainable global system, based on multi-polarity and wide participation which is wiser and fairer and the need to combine different perspectives. This is necessary to manage resources wisely to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor by investing in new technologies, education, food systems, renewable energies and health which are also important for the 2030 Agenda that the international community needs to tackle now. It certainly needs global action, similar to the solidarity demonstrated during the 2008 global financial crises. China’s experience can also be looked into in terms of political commitment and the right policies to achieve a moderately prosperous society, eliminating extreme poverty.
Our experiences show that people-centered and earth-centered policies inherently contradict each other. Human security is multi-dimensional, and people can have different perceptions. People who have suffered from environmental degradation may accept the notion of green development, however, others may not willing to pay the price of slowing down economic growth. These issues are intertwined but sometimes policymakers have to make a choice. The State has a role to play and green development for some people means losing jobs. Policies should be such that people are encouraged to invest in green technologies.
The Role of Social Protection for Sustainable Development:
Dr. Sarah Wang from Peking University pointed out that progress made on poverty eradication can be reversed if not protected through social protection systems and may hamper sustainable development. For the COVID-19 pandemic, statistics already show how serious the challenges are that developing countries are facing in terms of income loss, job loss overrun, under-resourced hospitals, shrinking economies, and business and trade supply chains. China faced a historic drop in industrial production and retail sales until March this year and a negative growth rate. Social protection plays a key role in achieving sustainable development, promoting social justice, reducing poverty and helping the poor and vulnerable to cope with the crises. The current measures are not enough, and a universal social protection system is needed which requires strong international cooperation and leadership. Social protection programmes currently being implemented by countries for COVID-19 are mostly short term and have temporary social protection policies. Examples from Argentina, Brazil, China, Morocco, Peru, South Africa, Thailand, and Uzbekistan were shared.
Long-term and universal social protection systems are needed. Governments should invest in and implement economic stimulus and support social protection schemes to help individuals and businesses and save economies. They should be people-centered, working in close collaboration with local communities and NGOs, scholars and different organizations and bringing attention to this important issue.
Inclusive Sustainable Development and Role of Gender:
Dr. Ameena Al Rasheed, visiting scholar at the University of Cambridge and senior researcher at UNOSSC, highlighted the Gender-specific implications of climate change. Climate change impact is not equal and relates to geographical location, socioeconomic conditions, political will, poverty, race and gender inequality. Climate change is not gender-neutral—it affects women and men differently. Women tend to rely upon livelihoods that are more likely to be influenced by climate variability and change. Gender-responsive climate change responses will contribute to the reduction of gender inequality and will increase people’s resilience to climate change. Environmental threats affect multiple aspects of well-being including livelihood, education, empowerment and equity. Rethinking development models are needed, and the State has a role to play. The presentation also highlighted various policy options. Decision-makers and development partners at all levels and sectors need to integrate gender perspectives into the planning, financing and implementation of adaptation and mitigation efforts.
Dr. Racha Ramadan, Cairo University and the Economic Research Forum highlighted that the four entry points in HDR 2020 presentation are interrelated and should consider inequalities in gender norms such as in technological progress: women in rural areas in Egypt may not have the access to mobile phones technology or access to the internet. Also, the gender dimension should be cross-cutting especially in terms of enhancing capabilities in terms of education, access to technologies and economic opportunities and increase in the care economy, since, in the current scenario, women are even more vulnerable – most working in the informal sector will lose jobs. She reiterated the need for rethinking the development agenda and also looking into how we can take forward the environmental benefits resulting from the lockdown due to COVID-19.
Role of Civil Society in South-South Cooperation for Sustainable Development
Ms. Amanda Lucey, researcher from South Africa specializing in South-South cooperation and peacebuilding, highlighted the important role of civil society in South-South cooperation and in contributing toward sustainable human development. Civil society plays an important role but South-South cooperation primarily remains a government-to-government initiative. A global South-South framework is critical to ensure that South-South cooperation activities are effective and efficient. Civil society can play a different role i.e. providing guidance and technical advice, enabling consultations, represent people’s voices, be a watchdog and provide M&E and a renewed focus on issues, and act as a service provider where government capacities are weak and hence, also provide capacity development. She also explained the work of civil society with the New Development Bank (NDB) and across the BRICS countries. It includes monitoring of SDGs and also the response to COVID-19 which was substantively supported by CSOs, mostly led by women, providing context-specific and cost-effective solutions, where government response was slow due to bureaucratic hurdles. However, there have been challenges including uncertainty in funding sizes and sources, trust deficit with government and lack of a coordinated and holistic approach. The propositions for what needed to be done can include engaging CSOs as part of formulating strategies; CSOs should be supported unconditionally with flexible funding mechanisms. Governments should be encouraged to break the silos and embrace the role of civil society, particularly for sustainable development by developing people-centered and context-specific indicators for monitoring the activities. Developing a strategy for such an engagement could be the first step.
Regional Perspective on Sustainable development from Turkey and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries:
Mr. Kaam Namli, from the Statistical, Economic and Social Research and Training Centre for Islamic Countries (SESRIC), emphasized the need to look into the definition of sustainable development from the perspective of southern countries. In the case of Turkey, for example, there are large scale projects having an impact on economic and social development that have a detrimental effect on the environment, even for the wider region. There needs to be some balance in the economic development desires and policies of the countries in the South and ways to make these development pathways sustainable. Political will for sustainable development vs. traditional models of economic growth remains the issue and hence, the development of social norms and values becomes important in bridging this gap.
Secondly, he spoke about the extent civil society and international organizations work together with local communities and the government to provide an inclusive policy for sustainable human development. Also, OIC member states, particularly the least developed countries (LDCS), have to deal with the issue of meeting the basic social needs of the people. Hence, sustainable development needs to take into consideration, environment, economic development needs, social norms and values, capacity issues, resources required by the countries, particularly LDCs. This will result in incentivizing sustainable development and more ownership by the countries.
International Development Pathways and the Role of South-South Cooperation:
Dr. Hany Baseda, from UNOSSC, talked about the interconnected natures of the global challenges that would require coordinated global response. Southern countries are leveraging South-South cooperation towards borderless development challenges and is an evolution from the traditional development approach. South-South Cooperation provides pathways for engagement, knowledge transfer, and support for institution building which allows Southern countries to better prepare and address climate issues alongside more relevant regional partners. Due to multiple factors including shared geographic location, economic and political environments, Southern countries share similar hurdles ranging from scarce resources and weak institutional organization to a lack of technological capacity. As a result, the utilization of South-South platforms and mechanisms is critical to realizing opportunities of mutual learning and cooperation in areas such as sustainable energy, low carbon agriculture, biofuels, forest monitoring systems, restoration and reforestation activities, and sustainable transport.
The consultation ended with the note of thanks to all the participants.