Choki Wangmo 

Bhutan ranked 129th out of 189 countries in the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI), according to the human development report 2020 launched virtually yesterday.

It is an improvement of five positions from the previous year, where Bhutan was ranked 134.

The HDI value for 2019 is 0.654, ranked 10th among 37 countries in the medium human development category in which neighbouring countries like India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan also fall.

However, the country’s Planetary pressures adjusted Human Development Index (PHDI) is 4.6 percent less than HDI. The difference is slightly higher than that of South Asia but less than average of developing countries.

PHDI is a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint. It provides a guiding metric towards advancing human development while easing planetary pressures. As the pressures on the planet increases, the PHDI value falls below HDI.

“The next frontier for human development will require working with and not against nature, while transforming social norms, values, and government and financial incentives,” the report argues.

For example, new estimates project that by 2100 the poorest countries in the world could experience up to 100 more days of extreme weather due to climate change each year which could be reduced to 50 days if the Paris Agreement on climate change is fully implemented.

Titled, ‘The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene’, the report lays out a stark choice for world leaders to take bold steps to reduce the immense pressure that is being exerted on the environment and the natural world, or humanity’s progress will stall. It calls for reimagining of the human development journey.

“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of Covid-19, record-breaking temperatures and spiralling inequality, it is time to use that power to redefine what we mean by progress, where our carbon and consumption footprints are no longer hidden,” said UNDP Bhutan Resident Representative Azusa Kubota.

“As this report shows, no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet. But we could be the first generation to right this wrong. That is the next frontier for human development,” she said.

With the report’s 30th anniversary edition this year, HDI ranks all countries in the world by the level of human development.

The report also argues that as people and planet enter the Anthropocene, it is time for all countries to redesign their paths to progress by fully accounting for the dangerous pressures humans put on the planet, and dismantle the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that prevent change.

Meanwhile, thanking UNDP, Chidrel Lyonpo (Foreign Minister) Dr Tandi Dorji, said this year’s theme resonates strongly with Bhutan’s developmental philosophy of Gross National Happiness. “Guided by our successive visionary monarchs, Bhutan continues to accord high importance to the health of our natural ecosystem. Our rich and pristine environment stands testimony to that.”

He said that he had no inhibitions in saying that Bhutan long chose a human development path that is in balance with the planet, one that the HDR 2020 advocates for in moving forward.

The report has identified three crucial building blocks to create real, lasting change: working with nature through nature-based solutions, improving incentives, and changing social norms, which Lyonpo said that Bhutan had been striving to achieve over the years.

The report recognises Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness work as a well-known project for measuring wellbeing of societies from the Global South.

The virtual launch was followed by a panel discussion, themed, “Navigating the Anthropocene: Bhutanese Voices,” in which the members discussed ways forward on how Bhutan can contribute to navigate the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, in which human activity is shaping the planet than the planet shapes human activity.