Publication of the 2014 Human Development Report prompts reflections on resilience and the value of science in fuelling prosperity.

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Source: UNDP, 2014, Human Development Report 2014

The 2014 Human Development Report (HDR), launched last week in Tokyo, represents the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP’s) flagship annual report and stock take of human development across the globe. Entitled Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, this latest instalment offers a fresh perspective on vulnerability and proposes ways in which resilience can be enhanced.

At its core are the ideas that:

1) persistent vulnerability threatens human development, and

2) unless this is systematically tackled through policies and social norms, progress will be neither equitable nor sustainable.

Also at its core are stats – lots of them. For instance, according to income-based measures of poverty, 1.2 billion people currently live on $1.25 or less a day. Worse still, according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), nearly 1.5 billion people in 91 countries live with multiple deprivations in health, education and living standards. And on top of that, almost 800 million risk falling back into poverty if setbacks occur.

These are clearly issues to sit up and take note of; and commentators the world over have been quick to respond (try #hdr2014 on Twitter for a sample).

But while the HDR throws down the gauntlet for the global community at large, it also raises issues of particular relevance to the Science Policy Centre. Here are a couple…


1) Resilience 

The HDR points to slowing development in all regions, noting the significant barrier to progress that natural disasters represent. Similarly, in our project examining human resilience to climate change and disasters (due to report this winter) we’re keen to highlight the links between disasters and development. We’re also examining human vulnerability as a core component of disaster risk (along the lines of the IPCC figure below), and hence reducing vulnerability as an important means of strengthening resilience.

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Source: IPCC, 2012, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation


Also striking from the perspective of our ‘resilience project’ is the HDR’s take on threats like climate change, which (being global in origin and impact) can’t be resolved by nations acting independently. Such threats, the HDR argues, require renewed international commitment and better coordination. Coupled with this, it calls for greater support for national programmes so that individual nations can tailor global initiatives to their specific country contexts. These messages chime with our own emerging conclusions: that building resilience to climate change and disasters requires multi-scalar governance, and that this should be guided by joined-up international policies.


2) The value of science

As well as stats, the HDR isn’t exactly short of indices. It presents the Human Development Index (HDI) for 187 countries, the Inequality-Adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI) for 145 countries, and the new Gender Development Index (GDI), which for the first time measures the gender gap in development progress for 148 countries. Add to that the Gender Inequality Index (GII) and Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) and the global picture becomes increasingly nuanced (or should that be confusing?!).

But what these composite indices have in common is that they all challenge purely economic assessments of national progress (much like other well-known measures – the Legatum Prosperity Index, NEF’s Happy Planet Index, and Bhutan’s measure of Gross National Happiness).

Besides discussing such indices in our 2012 People and the planet report, and highlighting the limitations of indices per se in this blog post, the Society also has an enduring interest in the role of science in delivering different types of progress. And here in the Science Policy Centre we’re exploring better ways to articulate the wider value of science to society and human wellbeing, going beyond the simple idea (see The Scientific Century and Fuelling Prosperity) that science contributes to economic growth. More from my colleagues in the coming weeks…


The road ahead

The HDR comes at a critical time, with the creation of a new global development agenda in full swing (see this previous post). It offers a timely reminder of the multi-faceted nature of vulnerability and resilience, and of the global challenges we face. And for science policy folk like me, it’s also a reminder of the contribution that science can make in getting us to the future we want – and keeping us there.