Maldives Has Highest Material Footprint Per Person in South Asia Region: UNDP Report

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis facing the world, but unless humans release their grip on nature, it won’t be the last, according to a new report by the United Nations  Development Programme (UNDP), which includes a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.  

The report lays out a stark choice for world leaders – 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.  

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“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, record-breaking temperatures and spiraling 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 Achim Steiner, UNDP  Administrator.  

“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,” he said.  

According to this year’s Human Development Index (HDI), Maldives is positioned at 95 out of 189  countries. Since 1990, average life expectancy in Maldives has increased by 17.4 years and gross national income (GNI) per capita has increased by 132%. At the same time, however, this year’s report reveals that Maldives has the highest material footprint per person in the South Asia region, which at  14.5 tonnes even surpasses the world average of 12.3 tonnes per person. 

An opinion-editorial penned by UNDP Resident Representative in the Maldives, Akiko Fujii, Minister of  Economic Development, Uz. Fayyaz Ismail, Minister of Economic Development, and Minister of  Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture, Zaha Waheed, alluded to the ‘whole-of-society’ response  – mechanisms of action, rather than specific actors – needed for human development in the  Anthropocene.  

“Maldives welcomed the ratification of the Consumer Protection Act this summer. It is critical that consumers’ rights be protected from unlawful commercial practices. At the same time, however, it is important that we as consumers use our rights and powers to influence responsible/good business practices in order to shape our future in the way that we want: by wisely choosing safe goods and services – production of which upholds the highest standard of sustainable development principles,” as stated in the joint opinion-editorial. 

“As consumers, we have the power to change not only our immediate environment; we can also impact entire industries and whole supply chain systems throughout the world, by choosing to buy environmentally and socially responsible goods and services. The COVID-19 crisis which has so restricted the lives of the young represents both a clear warning and an urgent challenge. It is essential that the generation with the greatest stake in the future should not only consume responsibly, but also use their entrepreneurial skills and imaginations to build new businesses, in greener, lower carbon and more sustainable ways, as responsible producers of the future. The ‘new normal’ will be what we make it, as both consumers and producers,” the opinion-editorial stressed. 

The Human Development Report notes that despite the new adjustments, countries like Costa Rica,  Moldova, and Panama move upwards by at least 30 places, recognizing that lighter pressure on the planet is possible.  

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- a number that could be cut in half if the Paris Agreement on climate change is fully implemented.  

And yet fossil fuels are still being subsidized: the full cost to societies of publicly financed subsidies for fossil fuels – including indirect costs – is estimated at over US$5 trillion a year, or 6.5 percent of global GDP,  according to International Monetary Fund figures cited in the report.  

According to the report, easing planetary pressures in a way that enables all people to flourish in this new age requires dismantling the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that stand in the way of transformation.  

Public action, the report argues, can address these inequalities, with examples ranging from increasingly progressive taxation, to protecting coastal communities through preventive investment and insurance, a  move that could safeguard the lives of 840 million people who live along the world’s low elevation coastlines. But there must be a concerted effort to ensure that actions do not further pit people against planet.  

“The next frontier for human development is not about choosing between people or trees; it’s about recognizing, today, that human progress driven by unequal, carbon-intensive growth has run its course,”  said Pedro Conceição, Director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office and lead author of the report. 

“By tackling inequality, capitalizing on innovation and working with nature, human development could take a transformational step forward to support societies and the planet together,” he said.  

To learn more about the 2020 Human Development report and UNDP’s analysis on the experimental  Planetary Pressures-Adjusted HDI, visit 

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