The coronavirus pandemic is just one consequence of a planet pushed to the brink by the relentless drive for human progress, a new United Nations report has warned.
Climate change is already dragging on economies, hunger is rising after decades of progress and natural hazards are getting worse thanks to intense planetary change that has been driven by human activity, the UN said in its latest update to the human development index (HDI).
Covid-19 is a sign that the warning lights are “flashing red” and “unless humans release their grip on nature, it won’t be the last” crisis the world will face, the report warns.
“Humans have achieved incredible things, but we have taken the earth to the brink,” said Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which is responsible for producing the report.
“Climate change, rupturing inequalities, record numbers of people forced from their homes by conflict and crisis – these are the results of societies that value what they measure instead of measuring what they value,” he said.
Over the past three decades, the HDI has ranked nations each year according to health, education and standards of living.
But this year, the new version draws on two additional elements: a country’s per capita carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint, which measures the amount of things like fossil fuels and metal used to make the goods and services it consumes.
“Many countries have achieved a great deal of progress but they also have done so at the expense of great damage to the planet,” Mr Steiner said, adding that no country has yet been able to achieve a very high level of development without putting a strain on natural resources.