Following the release of the Global Human Development Report (HDR) on 15th December 2020 in Nairobi, the Secretariat’s Board Chairperson Prof. Michael Chege discusses what the new human development data means for Kenya.

Themed Human Development and the Anthropocene, Expanding Human Freedoms in Balance with The Planet, the report highlights how human development destroys the natural environment.

The report estimates that some 100 million people may have been pushed into extreme poverty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For that reason, the report is not opposed to equitable rapid growth in poor countries as long as it avoids the destruction of nature in net terms.

This historic 2020 UNDP HDR on humanity and the environment in our age has been published without a single reference to Wangari Mathai and the Green Belt Movement, the spectacular greening Kisumu City under Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o or ecotourism with Jake Grieves-Cook. Despite this gratuitous slight on Africa, however, we could instill valuable information from it for our policy initiatives, its copious data being one of these.

One of the most significant achievements of the 2020 HDR is the introduction of a new Human Development Index (HDI) adjusted for environmental harm or help. (The standard HDI enumerates education levels, health, and income, but leaves out environmental effects). The environment-adjusted HDI has now titled the Planetary-Pressures Adjusted Human Development Indicator (PPAHDI), a tongue-twister for sure, but one the world needs.

When the environment criterion is introduced, more than 50 countries (among them Australia and Kuwait) drop from the UNDP’s ‘Very High Human Development’ category due to their prodigious use of fossil fuels, while some 30 others (including Costa Rica and Panama) move upward.

To its credit, Kenya, due to its growing reliance on renewable energy (70 percent) and a ban on reusable plastics, has moved up six ranks globally compared to its position in the regular HDI, putting us ahead in East Africa.

The body of the 2020 HDR, however, is devoted to two huge policy issues: how to galvanize human beings in truly massive numbers to care and sacrifice for the environment; and secondly how to shape fiscal and regulatory incentives to bring private costs closer to social costs – in plain terms, ensuring one pays for the environmental harm they pass on to their neighbors and to posterity.


A survey in the report says while 78 percent of the global population worries about the environment, only 50 percent are willing to act on it. Africa as a continent contributes a mere 4 percent of global greenhouse emissions but is expected to suffer some of the most devastating consequences from climate change, varying by region. (e.g. rains experienced in Nairobi in February which is normally a dry month.)

If the recommendations in the 2020 HDR are to have an effect, the earth’s most prodigious polluters should pay for this – a case that Africa should make at the November UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

According to the UN, By 2100, Africa will host 41 percent of the world’s population of 10.96 billion, and by 2030, says the World Bank, 90 percent of the world poor will live in Africa. Its unplanned and polluted urban growth is now the world’s fastest.

Download the HDR Report by clicking here
This discussion was published first on the Standard Newspaper  on Thursday, March 4, 2021.

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