Kenyatta International Convention Centre, (KICC),  Nairobi, Kenya, 13 January 2021

Hon. Nelson Gaichuhie, Chief Administrative Secretary, The National Treasury and Planning;

Dr. Chris K. Kiptoo, CBS, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forestry;

Prof.  Stephen Gitahi Kiama, Vice Chancellor, University of Nairobi;

Mrs. Katherine Muoki, Economic Planning Secretary, State Department for Planning, The National Treasury and Planning;

Mr. Waweru Kamau, Director, Social and Governance Directorate, State Department for Planning, The National Treasury and Planning;

Prof. Karuti Kanyinga, Director, Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi;

Professor Winnie Mitullah, Institute of Development Studies, University of Nairobi,

Professor Michael Chege, Independent Consultant;

Development Partners;

Distinguished Guests;

UN Colleagues;

It is an honour for me to represent UNDP in this milestone 30th anniversary year since the publication of our first flagship Global Human Development Report (HDR) in 1990 and to be here wit on this important occasion to launch the Human Development Report 2020: “The next frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene which analyses how the human impact on the planet interacts with existing inequalities, altering successful gains made for human development.  

The strain on our planet mirrors the strain facing many societies. Our societies and our planet are flashing red. For the first time in history, instead of the planet shaping humans, humans are shaping the planet. The pressures are so great that scientists argue we are in a new geological age – the Anthropocene – the age of humans. There can be no doubt that as humans, we have made incredible progress. We have improved the health, education and livelihoods of billions.  But our actions – particularly our dependence on fossil fuels and material consumption- are driving not just climate change and biodiversity collapse, but ocean acidification, air and water pollution and land degradation. We are destabilizing the very systems upon which we rely on for survival at unprecedented speed and scale.

Consider climate change. The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season either set new records or was on the verge of doing so, for the number of storms their strength.

Within the past year, extraordinary fires have scorched enormous areas of Australia, Brazil, eastern Siberia in Russia and the West Coast of the USA.

Here in East Africa, Africa’s largest inland body of water, Lake Victoria, which is shared by Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, hit the highest level ever recorded in mid-May 2020, submerging parts of towns and whole villages on its banks. UNDP, under the leadership of PS Kiptoo and the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, is finalizing a comprehensive report assessing the causes and the impacts of these lake level rises and we will be launching this report very soon.  

Elsewhere in Southern Africa, tropical Cyclone Idai cut a deadly swath through Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe on 14 March 2019 and cost the three countries more than US$2bn for infrastructure and livelihood impacts according to the World Bank. In Mozambique alone, more than 600 people died among the 1.5 million others affected. About 344 were killed in Zimbabwe. Southern Malawi was also drowned in heavy rainfall in an earlier phase of the storm, killing 59 people. The cyclone damaged the infrastructure corridor connecting the Mozambican port of Beira with Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, disrupting regional trade and supplies of fuel, wheat and other goods.

The planets biodiversity is in crisis.  Almost 70% of wildlife may have been lost since 1970. Many believe we are at the beginning of a mass extinction event, the sixth in the history of the planet and the first to be caused by an organism – us.

Of course, we cannot mention 2020 without mentioning COVID-19. Very much a symbol of what the Anthropocene has in store for us.

The COVID-19 pandemic – which almost certainly sprang from animals to humans - is the latest harrowing consequence of planetary imbalance. Scientists have long warned that diseases will emerge more often from interactions between people and wildlife, interactions that have steadily increased in scale and intensity, squeezing ecosystems so hard that deadly viruses spill out.

The novel coronavirus is not the first such virus. And it will not be the last.

COVID-19 has spread quickly around an interconnected world, taking root wherever it has landed and thriving especially in the cracks in societies, exploiting and exacerbating myriad inequalities in human development. In too many cases, those cracks have hamstrung efforts to control the virus.

And it is a human development crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is already threatening a reversal in many fundamental aspects of human development. The latest World Bank analysis shows that COVID-19 has pushed an additional 88 million people into extreme poverty in 2020– and in a worst-case scenario, the figure could be as high as 115 million. The June 2020 edition of the Global Economic Prospects put it plainly: “COVID-19 has triggered a global crisis like no other – a global health crisis that, in addition to an enormous human toll, is leading to the deepest global recession since the Second World War.

At the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, more than 160 countries had mandated some form of school closures affecting at least 1.5 billion children and youth.  As noted by the World Bank, COVID-19’s effects on education could be felt for decades to come, not just causing a loss of learning in the short term, but also diminishing economic opportunities for this generation of students over the long term. Due to learning losses and increases in dropout rates, this generation of students stand to lose an estimated US$10 trillion in earnings, or almost 10% of global GDP.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

The theme of the Human Development Report (HDR) 2020 we are launching today poses questions vital to humanity’s future – what is next for human development?  How do we find a new path that expands human freedom while easing pressures on the planet?  The Anthropocene does not lend itself to clear cut solutions. This age is a predicament, where the protection of the planet is the foundation of progress and not a constraint to prosperity.

The 2020 HDR offers an alternative to paralysis in the face of alarming planetary change. It comes as the COVID-19 pandemic offers a new glimpse of what a new future could hold and presents an opportunity for humanity to change course.  It sets out expanded metrics of human development including a new, experimental Planetary Pressures Adjusted Human Development Index (PHDI). The PHDI takes the original Human Development Index and adjusts it according to how much pressure each nation is – per capita - placing on the planet in two areas: their CO2 emissions and their material footprint.

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, gaps open up, reflecting the ways that their development paths impact the planet.

The PHDI paints a less rosy but clearer assessment of human progress today. For example, more than 50 countries drop out of the very high human development group, reflecting their dependence on fossil fuels and material footprint.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

The 2020 HDR argues that three principles provide the bedrock for transformation: they offer a compass to help navigate the Anthropocene. The report argues that working together in the pursuit of equity, innovation, and stewardship of nature can steer action towards the transformational changes needed to advance human development in the Anthropocene.

If humanity puts a greater weight on these principles when thinking about the future… that is, if equity, innovation and stewardship become central to what it means to live a good life … then human flourishing can happen alongside the easing of pressures on the planet.

Of course, systemic change will not happen overnight, nor will it come from pushing a policy lever.  COVID-19 shows this all too clearly: what started as a health challenge turned into a human development crisis.

The report identifies three building blocks to create real, lasting change:  working with – not against – nature, improving incentives and changing social norms.

Nature-based solutions: We must recognize that we are a part of nature, not separate from it. Solutions that work with – not against - nature can help both people and planet to prosper. A regenerating forest, for example, absorbs carbon and protects wildlife. It can provide a sustainable source of food to those who live there and generate the rain that provides freshwater for those living far away. Some 20 nature-based solutions could deliver 37% of the emission reductions needed by 2030 to keep warming below two degrees Celsius.

Incentives: Too often the incentives and regulations that influence decision making promote, rather than prevent, planetary damage.  Getting carbon pricing right is a critical example. The World spent over $300 billion in 2019 subsidizing our dependence on fossil fuels and making it harder for clean power to compete. Removing these subsidies could reduce carbon emissions by more than a quarter.

New norms: Everyone has a part to play. Studies suggest that 80% of people already think it is important to protect the planet. But fewer than half are likely to take action. Why? Perhaps because we are influenced by the social norms of those around us. Yet these can change very quickly – just look at the many millions of people who now wear a mask every time they leave their home. Unthinkable a year ago.

We know that Kenya understands these choices, and what is at stake right now for people and planet. We have seen the evidence of this in the planning for Kenya’s recovery trajectory from COVID-19. Both the National COVID-19 Socio-economic Recovery Strategy and the County level Socio-economic Re-engineering and Recovery Strategy, which UNDP has been privileged to support, place nature and the environment at the heart of the country’s efforts to Build Forward Better.

As stated earlier, the Report argues that investing in forests could account for roughly a quarter of all the actions we must take this decade to stop global warming from reaching two degree Celsius above preindustrial levels. Here again Kenya is playing a critical role in increasing forest cover as part of efforts to protect the country from environmental destruction. The ‘Greening Kenya’ initiative, which again UNDP aims pleased to be supporting through our REDD + Programme, is projected to establish between 30,000 – 40,000 Ha of forests by 2022 and increase forest cover from 7% to 10% will be fundamental in building a more sustainable recovery from COVID-19. We have also seen Kenya transition its energy supply to renewable sources with over 90% of its energy needs being covered from clean energy sources. These wise policy choices have manifested in Kenya enhancing climate ambition targets even further by recently announcing its intent to raise its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to 32%, up from the previously announced 30%. Earlier we heard more details of the components of the NDC update from Mr. Akotsi.

At UNDP, we are privileged to be working with a Government that shares the same outlook to reimagine human progress in a way that is cognizant of planetary pressures so that our support to countries achieves the dual objective of improving people's lives, but also, at the same time, finding pathways of doing it in ways that reduce planetary pressures.

At UNDP, we are preparing a new, three-part offer to build on the conversation this report has opened. It will include:

  • Expertise and tools that help countries to simulate alternative futures based on different policy choices, building on the data in the report;
  • Integrated programmatic and financial support that goes beyond ‘quick technical fixes’ to accelerate the transition towards greener and more equitable development paths; and
  • Tailored national and local policy dialogues to support the evolution of new social norms and build coalitions for change.

Our support is designed to help decision-makers look beyond recovery, towards 2030, making choices and managing complexity and uncertainty in four main areas: governance, social protection, green economy, and digital disruption.

It builds on our role in technically leading the UN’s socio-economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

This is the 30th anniversary of the concept of Human Development. Much has changed since the first HDR challenged the primacy of GDP as a measure of human progress.

But hope and possibility have not.

Our future is not about choosing between people or trees. It is about choosing to do things differently.  

That is the next frontier for human development.

Thank you, Chief Administrative Secretary, for hosting this launch, and thank you to everyone who joined us here today both physically and virtually.

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