Interview of Ms. Natia Natsvlishvili with media on the occasion of the launch of the Human Development Report 2020 “The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene”

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Photo: UNDP/Turkmenistan

Media: Can you please explain the context of the emergence of the new report and the thinking behind it?

Ms. Natsvlishvili: The Year 2020 has exposed prevailing challenges across the globe. COVID-19 exacerbated inequalities and demonstrated that we must consider development in a different way, we must relax our reliance of natural resources and ensure better resilience to the future crisis.

The present HDR is the UNDP call to stop going by business as usual. The report overhauls how we define and measure human development and outlines how we can use human development to change our current trajectory of mutually reinforcing planetary and social imbalance.

While UNDP has earlier already reported about changing face of inequality and the need to reconsider how we approach development, COVID-19 and the global pandemic situation demonstrated that we need to hurry to make sure that we reach our development goals, redesign their paths for human progress, by fully accounting for the dangerous pressures we put on the planet.

The report brings up the notion of Antropocene as the new era of defining the human development.

 

Media: What is “Anthropocene” and how is it relevant to human development?

Ms. Natsvlishvili: Some scientists believe that we are entering the new era of development called Anthropocene. This is a new concept which means that from now on human activity is shaping the planet to a greater extent than the planet shapes human activity.

Observing the human development progress for 30 years now (since the launch of the HDR), UNDP supports this notion and offers its own view on it through the most recent HDR. We believe that how people act and what we do to the planet is now the framing for human development.

Given that there are many uncertainties about our common future, we have a choice – to remain in the status quo and go business as usual, or take a chance and an opportunity arising and start acting differently – become more sustainable, greener, better.

According to the HDR “The pressures humans are collectively putting on our planetary systems – the pressures that created the Anthropocene – are manifested not just as climate change and biodiversity loss but in pollution, ocean acidification, land degradation and more.”

“The strain on our planet mirrors the strain facing our societies. Social and planetary imbalances reinforce each other in a vicious cycle. But, importantly, the Anthropocene also gives people the power to demand change – to set things straight between themselves and the planet.”

 

Media: How do the ongoing changes affect the Human Development Index (HDI)?

Ms. Natsvlishvili: This is one of the most intriguing part. People often ignore the narrative, but when they look at numbers, they ask questions “why”.

The Human Development Index was created as a device to help the public and political debate around development issues by encouraging countries to measure their progress against a metric that is wider than income.

For the last 30 years, Human Development Index which is part of the HDR was measured by looking at countries’ health, education, and standard of living. In 2020, HDR Office offers to add two new metrics – carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint. By doing so, the recalculated HDR demonstrated how the global development landscape changes when you consider the wellbeing of people alongside planetary pressures. And need to mention that no country is close to ideal HDI indicator.

You would actually be surprised to learn that for countries on the lower end of the human development spectrum, the impact of the adjustment is generally small, while 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.

As I already mentioned, HDR urges people to rethink their behavior and attitude towards the resources which are depleting – namely, one big resource – our planet Earth. If you remember previous HDR 2019 claimed that inequalities rise because of our systematic discriminations; HDR 2020 boldly states that we must change and this change must be immediate.

 

Media: Does the report claim that the human development is bad for our planet?

Ms. Natsvlishvili: Not at all. Human development is needed for all. Without proper development and thinking behind it, people will continue to hurt the environment and by doing so it will eventually lead to one disaster after another.

The HDR urges people to undertake reforms and practice behavior change. For starters, it is vital to change the way we treat our nature to mitigate the effects of climate change. In addition, changing social norms and values would bring a better balance among people and consequently attitude towards our planet and living.. There is also a growing inequality within communities as well as regional disparity in development. All of these lead to competition instead of cooperation and inability to agree on mutually beneficial behavior without a desire to harm each other.

All of these can be solved with right policies and incentives to change. For example, would you stop throwing plastic bottles away if you were given 1 manat for each bottle? Or would you trash cans in you were fined for it?

As HDR continues to claim – it’s all about inequalities – of both power and opportunity - within and between countries.

The policies and approaches that we take affects how people are going to shape their behavior. So, answering your question – no, human development is not bad for the planet, its about choices that we make and the change we want to see.

 

Media: What is Turkmenistan’s position in HDR 2020? Has anything changed?

Ms. Natsvlishvili: It must be noticed that the 2020 HDR presents HDI for 2019 which is pre-COVID-19 period. Turkmenistan’s HDI value for 2019 is 0.715 (high human development category). The country’s position is 111 out of 189 countries and territories. The rank is shared with Samoa. Between 2010 and 2019, Turkmenistan’s HDI value increased from 0.666 to 0.715, an increase of 7.4 percent.

Between 1990 and 2019, Turkmenistan’s life expectancy at birth increased by 5.4 years, mean years of schooling increased by 0.4 years and expected years of schooling increased by 1 year. Turkmenistan’s GNI per capita increased by about 105.2 percent between 1990 and 2019.

Turkmenistan’s 2019 HDI of 0.715 is below the average of 0.753 for countries in the high human development group and below the average of 0.791 for countries in Europe and Central Asia.

Media: Considering the findings of the report, how would you adjust your programme to meet the development needs of Turkmenistan and at the same time to promote a harmonious livelihood for all?

Ms. Natsvlishvili: UNDP programme in Turkmenistan is always developed in consultation with the Government and the people. Be it our five-year plan, or a 1-year project, we always find local partners to consult, analyze and develop a plan that would fit local needs.

I must also mention that we have recently agreed and adopted a new 5-year programme plan for 2021-2025 which will serve as the basis for our cooperation. The key dimensions of the programme are:

  • Implementation of governance reforms towards more effective and transparent public administration, based on international standards and Turkmenistan’s commitments to rule of law, human rights and gender equality;
  • Design and implementation of policy and regulatory reforms to promote economic development and better livelihoods in the non-hydro-carbon sectors of the economy, increased private sector competitiveness and trade, digitization, innovative and effective banking, and the creation of decent jobs, including for the care economy;
  • Support Government and other partners to implement effective measures for climate adaptation and mitigation and management of natural resources, and disaster risk reduction;
  • Strengthen health and social protection system performance to deliver higher quality and more inclusive services, with a focus on control of tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, increasing prevention and response capacities for pandemics, improving treatment for noncommunicable diseases and expanding coverage of social protection for vulnerable groups.

The Government of Turkmenistan already invests into modernization of its industries, diversification of the economy, promotion of the equal access and inclusive social services for all. UNDP is part of this process in many spheres, making valuable contribution on a diverse spectrum of our cooperation.

The findings of the global HDR will be presented to the Government of Turkmenistan and the broader range of stakeholders in the special event. We will count on the interesting exchange about its key findings with our partners.

 

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