It’s better (and worse) than we thought: UN releases 2011 Human Development Report

Given that it’s a new year, it’s the perfect time to highlight the previous year’s human development news. Human development is about expanding people’s choices and building sustainable societies on shared natural resources.

Recently released, the 2011 Human Development Report from the United Nations Development Fund focuses on linking the challenge of sustainable development to the challenge of achieving equitable progress. In June 2012, world leaders will gather in Rio de Janeiro to seek a new consensus on global actions to safeguard the future of the planet and the right of future generations everywhere to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

First, some sobering bits of information from the report. Many rural poor people depend overwhelmingly on natural resources for their income. This is important because how environmental degradation will affect people depends on whether they are net producers or net consumers of natural resources, whether they produce for subsistence or for the market and how readily they can shift between these activities and diversify their livelihoods with other occupations. And for women, these connections are particularly acute:

–   Today, around 350 million people, many of them poor, live in or near forests on which they rely for subsistence and incomes. Both deforestation and restrictions on access to natural resources can hurt the poor. Evidence from a range of countries suggests that women typically rely on forests more than men do because women tend to have fewer occupational options, be less mobile and bear most of the responsibility for collecting fuelwood.

–   Around 45 million people — at least 6 million of them women — fish for a living and are threatened by overfishing and climate change. The vulnerability is twofold: the countries most at risk also rely the most on fish for dietary protein, livelihoods and exports.

–   To the extent that women in poor countries are disproportionately involved in the most disadvantaged subsistence farming and water collection, they face greater adverse consequences of environmental degradation.

But! There’s hope:

–   Countries with a higher female parliamentary representation are more likely to set aside protected land areas. This data was assessed following a study of 25 developed and 65 developing countries.

–   Countries with higher female parliamentary (and federal legislative) representation are more likely to ratify international environmental treaties. This is according to a study of 130 countries that contain approximately 92 percent of the world’s people.

–   Of the 49 countries that reduced carbon dioxide emissions between 1990 and 2007,14 were very high HDI countries, 10 of which had higher than average female parliamentary or federal legislative representation.

So there it is, contrary to the catchy insistence of The Beyonce, girls do not, in fact, “Run the World.” But, now we know for sure: it would be a better place if they did.

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