• Lead-organizer: United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
  • 11:00 - 12:30
  • Date: 20 Jun 2012
  • Room: P3-6

Conference Wrap Up - Looking Forward
Khalid Malik, Director of UNDP's Human Development Report Office, on Beyond GDP
Beyond GDP: Measuring the Future We Want

Organizing partners

Indonesia (TBC)


This event will contribute to the outcomes of the UNCSD by making the case for measuring progress through a people-centered approach based on protecting and promoting human capabilities, choices, and freedoms. Measurement facilitates the achievement of sustainable progress. Informed by this emphasis on human development and sustainability, the Rio event will examine how the Human Development family of Indices can be broadened to incorporate sustainability considerations, in particular the environment, and map out the sustainable future we all want.

- High level round table with participation of the UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, and Heads of State/Government of Zambia and Denmark.

- Q&A session with prominent experts and opinion leaders

Detailed programme

The "Rio Principles" adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro emphasized that human beings should be "at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature" (Principle 1). This principle is central to UNDPís concept of human development which defines a process of enlarging peopleís choices emphasizing the freedom to be healthy, to be educated and to enjoy a decent standard of living, as well as a much broader range of capabilities to enable them to lead lives they have reason to value.

UNDPís first Human Development Report in 1990 recognized the limitations of existing development metrics and introduced the HDI as an alternative to GDP and related income-based barometers of national progress; it captures the key elements of human development, notably education, longevity and a decent standard of living. The need for better approaches to measuring progress beyond short-term economic indicators has been echoed more recently by other international institutions and opinion leaders, including the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Developmentís Better Life Initiative; UN Secretary Generalís High-level Global Sustainability Panel (cited above), and earlier the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission, which concluded in 2009 that a broader range of welfare indicators should be used alongside GDP. National initiatives to go beyond GDP are also growing, notably by the Kingdom of Bhutan and the United Kingdom.

Further, the UN Statistical Office's new System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, the Ecological Footprint and the World Bank-led partnership for Wealth Accounting for Valuation of Ecosystem Services are among the global initiatives that explicitly seek to incorporate an environmental dimension into their measurement of economic progress.

The HDI is seen by many observers as the most widely accepted alternative to per-capita GDP as a measure of development progress. Yet, as the UN Secretary General noted in his message to the Global Human Development Forum held in Istanbul in March 2012: "The concept of human development originated in well-rounded dissatisfaction with using only gross domestic product as a measure of human progress. Though this understanding has become something of a benchmark in our thinking about development, there remains a need to dramatically change the way we value and measure progress".

In this world of increasingly constrained resources, what do societies need to know in order to operate their economies safely in the 21st century? What critical information do they need to better understand the health of their economies and societies?

As with any measurement, there are methodological and real-world data challenges with the HDI family of indices. Indeed these were noted by its creators more than two decades ago, and have been partly addressed by new complementary measures adjusting the HDI to reflect the impact of gender bias, other forms of social inequality, and the incidence of poverty and deprivation.

The time has now come to go further, by adjusting the measurement and conceptualization of HDI to incorporate indicators of sustainability with a particular reference to the environment. At the heart of the UNDPís motivations for this effort is the notion of intergenerational equity, which simply states that choices made by current generations should not compromise or reduce the choices available to future generations. Already, there is extensive evidence of severe damage to ecosystems from choices made by past and current generations.

UNDPís Human Development Report Office has therefore begun exploration of ways to develop a "Sustainable Human Development Index, " recognizing that it poses a number of large conceptual and methodological challenges, including how best to link present choices with future choices (do they have the same weight?), how to reflect concepts of Ďplanetary boundariesí or Ďtipping pointsí given that climate change in particular has already begun imposing significant costs on people, with the brunt being felt by poor nations and poor communities, and how to connect issues of global responsibility with the need to ensure equal rights of all citizens on this planet.

Draft side event programme:

The UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, will preside over the event, delivering an opening statement and moderating a Davos-style panel discussion on the imperative of developing new measurements as alternatives to GDP for assessing national and global progress, and how they can be used by governments and other stakeholders including in international settings. Two Heads of State/Government will serve on the panel.

HDRO Director Khalid Malik will make the imperative for using the human development approach for measuring the future we want, focusing on how critical choices will shape a Sustainable Human Development Index and its uses.

There will be an opportunity for prominent experts and opinion leaders to make comments and ask questions from the panel.
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