• A personal note on IGBP and the social sciences

    Humans are an integral component of the Earth system as conceptualised by IGBP. João Morais recalls key milestones in IGBP’s engagement with the social sciences and offers some words of advice for Future Earth.
  • IGBP and Earth observation:
    a co-evolution

    The iconic images of Earth beamed back by the earliest spacecraft helped to galvanise interest in our planet’s environment. The subsequent evolution and development of satellites for Earth observation has been intricately linked with that of IGBP and other global-change research programmes, write Jack Kaye and Cat Downy .
Published: November 16, 2011

Is iconic UN index rewarding polluters?

News |
Sustainability remains suspiciously absent from the United Nations Human Development Index. Chuluun Togtokh, vice chair of the Mongolian IGBP Global Change National Committee argues in the journal Nature that this must stop.

A Mongolian scientist has called for the United Nations to overhaul its flagship development index, which he says wrongly promotes polluting countries as role models. “If the UN continues to encourage countries such as Mongolia to aspire to the US lifestyle, we will all be in serious trouble,” writes Chuluun Togtokh, in a World View column in this scientific journal Nature.

He says that the UN’s annual Human Development Index (HDI), released earlier this month, is flawed because it fails to take into account sustainability. “Worse still, the index celebrates gas-guzzling developed nations. It is time this failure — hidden in plain sight — was exposed and corrected,” he says.

2011 HDI rank minus 2011 HSDI rank

Red countries fall farthest when the Human Development Index is recalculated to include per capita carbon emissions.

Professor Togtokh has recalculated the index to take account of per capita carbon emissions from each nation, alongside the UN’s traditional measures of health, education and income levels. He names his new metric the Human Sustainable Development Index (HSDI). The results are striking: Australia slides from 2nd place to 26th; the United States drops from 4th to 28th; and Canada falls from 6th to 24th.

“The HDI has shifted the target of development beyond the almighty dollar; the proposed HSDI would go one step further and change the role models for development,” he says. “My country is likely to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world, but the current HDI offers no encouragement for it to grow sustainably.

Supporting notes

The 2011 HSDI incorporated carbon dioxide emission per capita in addition to income, health and education and used the same 2011 UN methodology (Technical notes for 2011 HDR). All four indicators carry equal weight. The incorporation of per capita carbon emissions was inverse: more emissions = lower environmental index value.

Top 30 HDI and HSDI ranks

Human Sustainable Development Index COMPLETE TABLEPDF (pdf, 57.2 kB)

Professor Togtokh is Vice Chair of the IGBP Global Change National Committee of Mongolia.

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