The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been a pioneer in terms of developing the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a more balanced way of measuring human development that goes beyond traditional, simple economic indicators of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). They have also been publishing an annual Human Development Report (HDR) which tracks every country’s HDI each year. Each year’s report also has a theme to it, and the 2015 HDR was on the theme of Climate Change and Human Development, which I had the privilege of contributing to.
The 2020 HDR has just been launched and the theme this year is Development in the age of the Anthropocene. I am sure that most readers will not know what this word means, as it comes from the realm of geology and environmental studies. For those of us working in the environment arena, it is a term that we have become familiar with, as we are entering a new geological era where human beings are affecting the planet at a scale that has never been possible before. This new era can be a force for good but unfortunately, it is more a force for bad than good at the moment. Hence, we need to develop a major paradigm shift in terms of how we value what really matters as we develop. The 2020 HDR has shown very convincingly that even for countries that have gone up the HDI in terms of enhanced development, they have done so at the expense of their own environment. The paradigm shift that is therefore needed is to make sure that HDI is combined with environmental considerations at the same time.
Therefore, business as usual is no longer good enough and going forward, we need to develop a new normal for decision-making where economic indicators are not the only ones to consider. We need to give equal value to equity and social capital, as well as environmental protection and climate change considerations.
How can we make this paradigm shift? At the global level, we need to make a paradigm shift for each and every individual on the planet to think of oneself as a citizen of planet Earth first and of our country second. This was never true before we entered the Anthropocene era but is now necessary.
At the national level, in Bangladesh, we can indeed be proud that our Parliament was one of the first to declare a planetary emergency. This was not just a climate change emergency similar to what other Parliaments had done, but the recognition of climate change and biodiversity loss together to create a planetary emergency. While this is an excellent example, it does not mean anything if it doesn’t lead to more substantive changes in the way we do things in the country in practice.