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Human Development and Sustainability

maggio 18, 2011

The human development concept is developed in the late eighties, the program of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in order to overcome and expand the definition of development focuses only on economic growth. Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.  In other words, growth today should not impair the ability of future generations”. The literature on human development and sustainable development have long been separated, although they have much in common, because no sustainable human development would not be true development.

the objective of human development has lead to people is to live long, healthy, educated and rewarding, it can be seen as a process of expanding real freedoms enjoyed by human beings that it aims to enable everyone to be able and free to do things, sustainable human development, just as is indicated in the “Brundtland Report” (1987), is a development that meets present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Since many people derive income from other things other than income, economic development must be much more than increasing the per capita income (Layard2006).

Too often it happened that the sustainability debate has focused on the sustainability of consumption simple, although it has often been understood broadly. Focusing only on consumption is very dangerous because the debate on sustainability is much more than mere consumption.

The literature on human development reminded supporters of sustainability that the intra-generational equity is as important as inter-generational equity: Brutland this regard, the Board has been very clear: it states that priority should be given the essential needs of world’s poor. Empirical evidence shows that very often we tend to overlook or even ignore the intra-generational equity issues. Anand and Sen argue that assistance to the poor will help to build human capital, which will also benefit future generations.

Supporters of sustainability can be divided into those who adhere to the weak sustainability (WS), and those who adhere to strong sustainability (SS) (Neumayer 2010).The weak sustainability affirms the possibility of replacing natural resources, if this leads to an increase in the total value of the system, provided that in the long term the stock of natural resources is at least consistent., an example can be done with the design of houses they get a positive result.

The strong sustainability (SS) rejects the idea of substitution of natural resources, since they are an irreplaceable part of the assets available to it, there is no remedy to their degradation and therefore can not be replaced either by the increase in other values, such as social or economic. In today’ s world the natural resources become the limiting factor. The empirical evidence appears to support the thesis of strong sustainability with regard the role of natural capital to absorb pollution, while supporting the sustainability weak when it comes to natural capital resources used as inputs in the production of consumer goods.

The position of Sen seems to be somewhat ‘ambiguous in some essays embracing the idea of replacing WS, while others enter into defence of the SS.

After discussing the conceptual links between human development and sustainability were considered concrete proposals linking the measurement of human development with sustainability.

Human Development Index (Human Development Index, HDI) is an index formulated in 1990 within the first Human Development Report of UNDP ( the United Nations Development Programme) Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq and Sir Richard Jolly.

The index is calculated by country based on several factors, mainly :

the literacy rate

life expectancy

Gross domestic product per capita.They are translated into indexes based on this generic formulation:

X_index =   (actual value  –  minimum value)   ;

(maximum value  –  minimum value)

X = (Income, Longevity, Education)

We take as a given HDI and explore ways of connecting with sustainability.

There are two  strategies:

  1. You can try adjusting the HDI itself and build sustainability in size by adding another element or revision of an existing element to include sustainability.
  2. You can try to leave unchanged the HDI, adding sustainability as an external qualification level indicators of human development achieved.

The first strategy is full of problems, then use the second strategy which allows to relate the HDI with  WAS and SS.

First, has been updated the analysis in Neumayer(2001) to the year 2006, the latest year with available data. I extend the analysis in two ways.

First, rather than providing an analysis for one single year (1998), I cover the full existing time

period, for which an HDI has been computed with a consistent methodology (1980, 1985, 1990,

1995, 2000, 2005 and 2006). Second, in addition to providing a WS qualification to the HDI as

in Neumayer (2001), I also provide a SS qualification.

Ws is measured by the index called genuine saving; it is a simple indicator devised by Bank researchers to assess an economy’s sustainability. It defines wealth more broadly than orthodox national accounts, and recalculates national savings figures based on this new definition. Genuine savings aim to represent “…the value of the net change in the whole range of assets that are important for development: produced assets, natural resources, environmental quality, human resources, and foreign assets” GS is computed by the World Bank as follows: GS is net savings minus depreciation of natural capital from the depletion of natural resources minus damage caused by CO2 emissions minus, for a few mostly developed countries and more recent years, damage caused by suspended particulate matter emissions. Education expenditures, both current and investment expenditures, are used as a proxy for the increase in human capital.

The genuine saving Index includes a few problems:

  1. the method for calculating depreciation of natural capital arguably over-estimates depreciation of the natural capital stock; but will be followed here since computing depreciation according to the competing ‘El Serafy method
  2. the coverage of non-renewable and of renewable resources needs to be extended if enough data of sufficient quality can be established

3.      the loss of natural capital due to environmental pollution is underestimated since onlyone or two pollutants are included

Countries with high human development have no problems with the WS, this is explain by their high  net savings rates, the situation changes if they are taken into account other pollutants.

The genuine saving rate covers only carbon emissions for all countries, with CO2emissions is valued at U.S. $ 20 per ton of carbon (Fankhauser1995). The use of dated estimate may underestimate the damage caused by emissions of CO2, but unfortunately the only available data for a large number of countries. Weak sustainability is recognized only if Gs index is persistently below zero.

Contrary to WS, there is no commonly agreed upon measure of SS (Neumayer 2010). the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) is very popular, but it is very data-intensive and only available for some countries. The most popular measure with good coverage of the country seems to be the ecological footprint (EF). Ecological footprint measures the area of biologically productive land and sea needed to regenerate the resources consumed by a human population and absorb the corresponding waste. Using the ecological footprint, you can estimate how many “Planet Earth” is needed to support humanity if everyone lived according to a certain life style. The focus is centred on consumption, the resources extracted in a developing country but consumed in a developed country are charged to developed country (ef); this is inconsistent with genuine savings, which attributes natural capital depreciation from resource extraction to the extracting, not the consuming country.

In addition, ecological frontprint uses the earth as a unit rather than the money as it considers monetary analysis is misleading as it suggests substitutability, allows for the discounting of the future and focuses on marginal rather than absolute values.

No lack of criticism of EF, with many concentrated energy or carbon Footprint, which is the main component of f in most countries. Implicitly EF also allows for substitutability at least within natural capital, which is likely to be problematic in the SS paradigm . As an indication of strong sustainability, I follow Moran suggestion that ‘a per capita Ecological Footprint less than the globally available biocapacity per person’ represents a minimum requirement ‘for sustainable development that is globally replicable’. WWF (2008) estimates this globally available biocapacity to be 2.1 global hectares per person.

Note that EF, the measure of SS, measures a country’s contribution to global strong sustainability. For example, Bangladesh and Maldives in the future are likely to become victims of strong unsustainability of of the other countries in the form of rising sea. What matters to these countries is unsustainable if there is a strong form of greenhouse gas emissions. Genuine Savings, the measure of WS, similarly looks at national performance only without regard to global patterns and trends of, for example, natural resource extraction. Since according to the substitutability assumption of WS the only relevant question is whether countries sufficiently invest their proceeds from natural capital depreciation into other forms of capital, not whether other countries do so. The proceeds from natural capital depreciation are not entirely independent of the decisions of others, but countries are more

autonomous in their quest for achieving WS than in their quest for achieving SS.

Both   sustainability measures have problems in properly accounting for technical progress. This progress will be included in the measurement if GS is embodied in the value of the investment in capital formula. The ecological footprint is a static measure that is based on the technology of today and can not take into account technological progress.

The empirical evidence (Table No. 1 shows the development in the period 1980-2006HDI) shows that:

1.      Countries with very high human development, and countries with high human development are not strongly sustainable , as indicated by EF. This is due to excess greenhouse gases per capita respect the absorption capacity of the atmosphere (Table 2) .

2.      countries with high human development have no problem with weak sustainability, thanks to the rates of investment in human and artificial.

3.      as indicated by GS; unsustainability weakness is very common in low and medium human development; but countries dependent on natural resource extraction with high human development also often have negative GS

4.      unsustainably large EFs and unsustainably low GS are often a persistent phenomenon in the sense that unsustainability in one year is followed by unsustainability in following years.

Following these results we can draw important policy conclusions:

  • First, one of the biggest challenges of this century will be to break the link between the high and very high levels of human development and strong unsustainability. Then the nations will have to reach high and very high levels of human development without running down critical forms of natural capital. The transition to an economy of very low carbon intensity will prove one of the biggest challenges ahead (UNDP 2007; World Bank 2010).
  • Second, another big challenge for this century is to raise GS in those countries with negative GS, particularly so for the ones with low human development. the situation in this last group of countries is very bad, many people suffer from low levels of income, lack of education, poor health and low life expectancy, but these low levels of human development can not even be sustainable in future, even under the optimistic substitutability assumption of WS.

In this paper has shown that there is no real difference between human development and sustainable development. Sustainable human development, thus, aims to respond in an innovative and proactive to the negative effects of globalization processes, such as the close relationship between environmental degradation, poverty and economic growth, using the obvious opportunities arising from scientific and technological development, but respect for fundamental human rights and the intrinsic value of nature and human life forms. The concrete realization of a human and sustainable development presupposes the direct and effective involvement of individuals and entities active in the definition, implementation and evaluation of development options of a community.


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