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09.11.2011 ‘Sustainability and equity’ key global challenges for the 21st century, according to Moscow roundtable
Moscow, 9 November 2011—Reversing environmental degradation and reducing massive inequalities in wealth are two key development challenges for the 21st century, senior officials from the United Nations Development Programme said yesterday at an international roundtable in Moscow that also featured Russia-specific analysis.
“We will not be able to put the world on to a sustainable development path if we do not address the needs of those that have been left out,” said Kori Udovicki, Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. “Likewise, we cannot address the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable – in rich countries, as well as in poor – if we do not address the threats to the environment.”
The event presented the Russian version of UNDP’s Human Development Report—‘Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All’. The Report argues that the urgent global challenges of sustainability and equity must be addressed together—and identifies mutually reinforcing policies on the national and global level that can spur progress towards these goals. It finds that societies with more equal human development achievements are better positioned to promote transitions to cleaner energy technologies, or to protect populations facing environmental threats like water pollution and acute climate shifts.
According to Natalia Zubarevich, Director of the regional programme of the Independent Institute for Social Policy, “the state must play a key role in promoting equity.” An optimal regional policy would be to stimulate economic growth as well as social leveling, she said. But in Russia the lowering of social inequalities across regions in Russia has been achieved by distributing excess oil profits—which is unsustainable in the long run.
Ben Slay, Senior Economist for UNDP’s Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, noted that the countries of the former Soviet Union compare well with other regions of the world, but there are concern on specific issues. The report points out, for example, that Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are among the world’s leaders in deaths from indoor air pollution (516 and 418 per million a year, respectively), reflecting relatively large numbers of people without access to safe cooking and heating fuels.
Tajikistan’s death rate from unsafe drinking water (751 per million people annually) is one of the world’s highest (outside of sub-Saharan Africa). High death rates from unsafe drinking water are also reported in Turkmenistan (532 per million), Uzbekistan (335), and Kyrgyzstan (259). The report finds that Uzbekistan spends over 10 times more on fossil fuel consumption subsidies than on health (32 percent of GDP, compared with 2.5 percent).
Throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, human development levels continue to rise, with greater equality than other areas of the developing world, the 2011 Report shows. This is particularly the case for public health and education. But the Report also warns that internal income gaps are widening in much of the region, and that environmental degradation could undermine hard-won progress.
The Report shows the region is a pacesetter in providing the poorest communities with basic household services—safe water and cooking fuels, and sanitation. Central Asia, however, still has significant numbers of people classified as “multi-dimensionally poor.” Tajikistan has the highest percent in the region, at 17 percent of the total population. However, even Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan (the region’s poorest countries) rank in the human development index’s “medium human development” quadrille.
Despite high achievements in education and health care, the Report finds that progress in Eastern Europe has not spread equally to the disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Groups such as the Roma are relatively more deprived than national poverty estimates would suggest, the Report notes.
Urban air pollution, water pollution and rising carbon emissions are cited in the Report as some of the area’s leading threats to sustainable progress. Energy poses another challenge to sustainable growth. The Report shows fossil fuels account for 88 percent of primary energy supply, and the regional average for renewable energy use is the world’s lowest. If the change is to occur, the Report contends, governments must be more transparent, with strong independent watchdogs – news media, civil society and the courts – helping to encourage greater public involvement in environmental policy making. “Stronger accountability and democratic processes, in part through support for an active civil society and media, can also improve outcomes,” says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark in the Report’s foreword.
ABOUT THIS REPORT: The annual Human Development Report is an editorially independent publication of the United Nations Development Programme. The 2011 Report is available in ten languages for free downloading as PDFs or e-Books at http://hdr.undp.org/
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