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Eco-Human Development Index

By Prahlad Shekhawat

06 June, 2013

More than $150 billion are being spent annually on development worldwide, but almost no one is tracking whether the achieved progress can be sustained, or whether development and rapid economic growth is becoming progressively fragile without the essential access to nature’s resources

As an example India’s Ecological Footprint which measures the amount of productive land and sea area required to produce the resources it consumes and absorb its waste, has doubled since 1961, indicating growing scarcity of natural wealth. Today the country’s total demand on biocapacity is exceeded only by the United States and China.

J N. Godrej, Chairman of the CII had warned; “India is depleting its ecological assets in support of its current economic boom and the growth of its population. This suggests that business and government intervention are needed to reverse this risky trend, and ensure a sustainable future in which India remains economically competitive and its people can live satisfying lives”

The World Bank Wealth Estimates measure a country’s total wealth as composed of produced capital including infrastructure and urban land, natural capital like forests, cropland, fish stocks, minerals etc and human resources like human capital, quality of institutions. Adjusted Net Saving indicates the sustainability of the economy by calculating from year to year the increase in produced capital, depletion of natural resources, investments in human capital and damage to health caused by pollutionf measures

The recent United Nations Report on inclusive wealth published cost benefit balance-sheets for 20 countries in a report whose lead author is the Indian economist Partha Dasgupta. Assets included are: manufactured or physical capital machinery, buildings, infrastructure etc, human capital like the population’s education and skills and natural capital (including land, forests, fossil fuels and minerals.

Such inclusive calculation of wealth need to be combined with broader measures of human progress as well as to get the big picture of sustainable economic growth in terms of the national accounts of cost and benefit analysis and net gain. This gap has now been filled in a substantial way by the United Nations Development Programme’s latest Human Development Report 2013.

The report highlights a countries performance as suggested by the Global Footprint Network which measures both the amount of human well-being that countries generate as measured by the Human Development Index as well as the level of resource demand and consumption measured by the Ecological Footprint. It is a big step forward that a leading UN agency’s has now offered a strategy for alternative development. Earlier the report included Ecological Footprint outcomes in its background data. Now HDI-Footprint table using simple indicators, prominently reveals how much the world is removed from achieving the sustainable development challenge

The United Nations’ HDI is an indicator of human development that measures a country’s achievements in the areas of longevity, education, and income. The Ecological Footprint measures a people’s demand on nature and can be compared to the available biocapacity.

The value of integrating the two into one science-based evaluative framework is that sustainable human development depends on achieving better lives for all, within the resource budget available to the population. The latter means adequate access to ecological assets over the long-term. We need to realise and always keep in mind that human welfare is crucially dependent on healthy ecological assets.

The new Human Development Report summarises the need of the hour: “To sustain progress in human development, far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment. The goal is high human development and a low ecological footprint per capita. Only a few countries come close to creating such a globally reproducible high level of human development without exerting unsustainable pressure on the planet’s ecological resources.”

In this context it is remarkable that The Happy Planet Index measures a society’s achievement in terms of satisfaction with life while doing least damage to the environment

All is not lost and there are many opportunities to manage and use biocapacity more effectively and to invest in those human development programs that move countries and their people closer to global long-term sustainability. There is no excuse anymore to say that we cannot value holistic human development because the intangible value of the environment cannot be measured and interrelated

Prahlad Shekhawat is Director, Alternative Development and Research Center,Jaipur. www.altdev.org





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