We are at an unprecedented moment in the history of humankind and in the history of our planet. Warning lights – for our societies and the planet – are flashing red.
Even before the COVID-19 turned our world upside down, every day we had reports of disasters on the news headlines – tsunami, forest fire, earthquakes that ravaged millions of lives. The COVID-19 is the biggest pandemic our generation has ever experienced at this scale, but it need not be the last one. While it has emerged as a global humanitarian crisis, it has also forced us to pause and reflect and offered us a chance for a new beginning.
We are possibly the only generation that is given a second chance to build back our lives, make better choices and regain our balance with nature.
Last month, UNDP released the 2020 Human Development Report globally that highlights how our high human development has been putting strain on the planet.
For the first time in our long, 300,000-year relationship, instead of the planet shaping humans, humans are shaping the planet – this is the age of the Anthropocene. There lies a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to choose to change – a new way forward for the people and the planet.
We at UNDP argue whether human development can be seen as ‘progress’ if it destroys the planet. That is why in our assessment of the Human Development Index (HDI) in 2020, we added the countries’ consumptions and carbon footprints to the HDI.
And the results are stark.
No country in the world has achieved the magic combination of high human development and low planetary pressure – yet.
For countries on the lower end of the human development spectrum, the impact of the adjustment is generally small. For countries with high or very high human development, the impact tends to become increasingly negative, reflecting the ways that their development paths impact the planet.
But the report did not just look at problems. It also looked at what kind of solutions would lead to a more equitable and just world.
20 nature-based solutions could deliver 37 percent of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep global warming below 2C. Around two thirds of that mitigation are linked to forest pathways, mainly reforestation and improved forest management. Investing in renewable energy is another way forward that will literally give power to the people and democratize their energy supply. Nature-based solutions are being applied world over to resolve complex environmental issues. In the Gulf of Nicoya in Costa Rica, where 34 percent of the mangrove forests are threatened by agricultural expansion, Conservation International started a mangrove restoration project, building capacity and creating an education programme so local communities could replant mangroves.
The value of the nature-based solutions goes beyond their contributions to local communities. If their effects are scaled up, they can contribute to transformational change. But only a systemic approach will enable nature-based solutions to have impacts at larger scales.
India has made tremendous progress on nature-based solutions, especially in the realm of renewable energy in recent times. Solar capacity in India increased from 2.6 gigawatts in March 2014 to 30 gigawatts in July 2019, achieving its target of 20 gigawatts four years ahead of its target. India has also been ranked fifth for installed solar capacity.
UNDP in India is working with the government of India on several projects that are based on the principle of nature-based solutions. A biodiversity project in Nagaland is improving the productivity and fertility of jhum-land and fallow areas. The increased productivity has spiked sales of products and increased the farmer incomes substantially.
In partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Forests and supported by the Global Environment Facility, UNDP has been working towards mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into Sindhudurg coastal districts and high-altitude Himalayas. Through these initiatives, we also ensure improving the lives and livelihood of the local communities – amidst the threat of unsustainable fishing practices, rising pollution from fishing vessels and depleting forest and marine resources.
The way forward is not only about expanding people’s capacity to lead lives they value but also expanding choices available to them. This requires finding ways of transforming how we live, work, eat, interact and, most of all, how we consume energy. For starters, that means working with and not against nature. While we have made tremendous progress in human development, we must also recognize that this development has very often come at the planet’s expense.
Governments cannot go it alone. Nor can we ignore the opportunity for and importance of social mobilization from the bottom up. Individuals, communities and social movements demand pressure and support government action. When governments subsidize fossil fuels, they send powerful signals beyond the obvious economic and environmental implications . It therefore comes down to the incentives, social norms, and nature-based solutions that will reset how people and planet interact.
(Shoko Noda is the Resident Representative of the United Nations Development Programme to India.)
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