Is there a Co-Relation Between Human Development & SDGs?

By Pedro Conceição
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 1 2019 (IPS)

“People are the real wealth of nations,” began the first
Human Development Report (HDR). That 1990 report marked a turning
point in the global development debate.

During the second half of the 20th century there were growing
concerns about the tyranny of gross domestic product (GDP). Many
decision-makers seemed to believe that economic growth and
wellbeing were synonymous.

But those who understood what GDP actually measures disagreed.
Their arguments were well encapsulated in Bobby Kennedy’s now
famous speech in which he noted that GDP “measures everything in
short, except that which makes life worthwhile”.

Thirty years later global development stands at another
milestone. The 2030 Agenda is an opportunity to end poverty,
protect the planet and ensure lasting peace and prosperity. Can
human development thinking inspire a new generation of analysis,
measurement and decision-making to revolutionise global development
once again?

How does human development relate to the
SDGs?

There are many links between the human development approach and
the 2030 Agenda. But it is worth noting up front that the two are
fundamentally different things.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a globally agreed
tool for assessing development progress. Human development,
meanwhile, is a philosophy – or lens – for considering almost
any development issue one can think of.

In other words, the SDGs provide a development destination.
Human development allows one to design the route to get there. Two
characteristics of the approach make it particularly suitable for
designing the policies that nations need to achieve the SDGs.

First, the SDGs are ‘integrated and indivisible’. And so,
though the goals are discrete, the policies for achieving them need
to recognise the interlinkages between the different areas. The
human development approach stresses the importance of integrated
thinking and the ‘joined up’ nature of development.

For instance, when trying to make it easier for someone to find
work, one also needs to think about that person’s health, other
responsibilities (at home, for example), education, access to
transport, freedom to take a job (particularly for many women), and
so on.

Second, while all nations have agreed on the importance of the
SDGs, it is for each nation to pursue the goals according to their
own priorities. And so, any broad development approach will need to
be flexible if it is to be useful to many countries.

Human development can be thought of as broad as – or broader
than – the 2030 Agenda. It is an approach that can be applied in
different places, by different people and in different ways to
tackle different issues.

Measuring and communicating progress

The SDGs comprise 17 goals, 169 targets and 232 indicators. Some
commentators see the quantity of targets as a weakness. Others
argue it is a necessary reflection of the complexity of life.

Whatever one thinks, the number of indicators undoubtedly makes
it difficult to readily summarise a nation’s overall progress
against the 2030 Agenda. Indeed, it is often argued that one reason
for GDP’s dominance in political debate is that it provides a
‘one number’ measure of progress that captures public
attention.

The Human Development Index (HDI) provides an alternative
single-number measure, capturing progress in three basic dimensions
of human development: health, education and living standards. It
enables cross-country comparisons similar to – but broader than
– those provided by GDP.

Mahbub Ul Haq, the father of the HDI, recognised the convening
power of a single number: “We need a measure of the same level of
vulgarity as GNP – just one number – but a measure that is not
as blind to social aspects of human lives as GNP is.”

But the HDI has also attracted criticism. This is primarily
because – as with almost all composite indicators – it is
impossible to avoid rather arbitrary weighting when combining
component indicators measured in different units: life expectancy
(in years of life), income (in purchasing power) or education (in
years of expected and actual schooling).

If this is problematic for the HDI, built from just four
indicators, then imagine the uproar if one tried a similar approach
with the SDGs’ 232 indicators.

Is there a middle ground? There might be a case for using the
HDI as one of a very few measures to summarise progress towards the
2030 Agenda. Many of the SDGs relate directly to the HDI: poverty,
health, education and work, for example.

Others – such as peace and hunger – relate indirectly. And
if the HDI is moving in the right direction, it is rather likely
that those SDGs are progressing too.

This is not to say that the HDI should replace those targets and
indicators. It cannot. But the index can offer a rough indication
of whether a nation is progressing against many of the SDGs.

Finding other summary measures – to sketch a fuller picture of
progress towards the 2030 Agenda – is undoubtedly a challenge
given the diversity of goals and targets. But work we are planning
at UNDP might help.

It is fair to say that the HDI has not evolved as dramatically
as the world’s development challenges have over the past 30
years. Some of the challenges the planet is grappling with are new,
such as understanding what the rise in artificial intelligence
might mean for the labour force a decade from now.

And some global challenges are more urgent than 30 years ago:
the frightening pace of climate change being the most obvious
example.

Indeed, the natural environment is a crucial component of the
2030 Agenda. But neither the HDI, nor our other composite
indicators of human development, touch on environmental concerns.
We intend next year to investigate how environmental – and other
– considerations could be included within a composite development
index.

Looking to the future

The development world is rightly focused on the SDGs. But global
development will not, of course, grind to a halt in 2030 even if
all the SDGs are achieved. Old concerns will continue. New ones
will emerge.

And the HDR has an important role to play in ensuring we keep
one eye on the horizon, even if most attention is focused on the
next 11 years.

For example, this year’s HDR will be about inequality. An
emerging theme suggests that although many countries are making
progress in closing key development gaps, new fissures are opening
just as quickly.

In many countries today, for example, the gap between rich and
poor children has closed when we look at whether they have access
to primary education. But differences between these children are
widening when we consider the quality of that education, or whether
they have access to other schooling, such as early childhood
education.

These ‘new’ inequalities will have lifetime consequences,
particularly given the rapid technological changes that are already
impacting labour markets. It is important that we pay attention to
them now. It is also important that we get ahead of the curve to
see what important gaps will emerge in the next decade, even if
they are not included in the SDGs.

The 2030 Agenda and the SDGs – with their universal call to
action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all
people enjoy peace and prosperity – foreshadow a better world
that the human development approach is helping to build. But the
story of global development will not end in 2030.

It is our job to ensure that human development thinking will
continue to shape the global development landscape for the rest of
the 21st century.

* UNDP’s Human Development Report turns 30 next year. This is
a moment both for celebrating the report’s impact, and for
reflecting on how it can continue to help global development in a
landscape dominated by the SDGs

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Is there a Co-Relation Between Human Development & SDGs?

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Excerpt:


Pedro Conceição
is Director, UN Development
Programme’s Human Development Report*

The post
Is there a Co-Relation Between Human Development & SDGs?

appeared first on Inter Press
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Is there a Co-Relation Between Human Development & SDGs?