The new inequalities stem around the climate crisis, and the progress of the technological transformation that includes renewables and energy efficiency, digital finance and digital health solutions. According to UNDP, the two seismic shifts could trigger a new great divergence, the kind not seen since the Industrial Revolution, as they shape the next century.
Inequalities around education,
technology and climate change could trigger a great divergence in society if
left unchecked, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) has cautioned in its 2019
edition of the Human Development Report.
The report says that just as the gap in basic living
standards is narrowing for millions of people, the necessities to thrive have
evolved, opening a new generation of inequalities, despite global progress in
tackling poverty, hunger and disease.
The new inequalities stem around
the climate crisis, and the progress of the technological transformation that
includes renewables and energy efficiency, digital finance and digital health
solutions. According to UNDP, the two seismic shifts could trigger a new great
divergence, the kind not seen since the Industrial Revolution, as they shape
the next century.
“Different triggers are bringing
people onto the streets; the cost of a train ticket, the price of petrol,
demands for political freedoms, the pursuit of fairness and justice. This is
the new face of inequality, and as this Human Development Report sets out,
inequality is not beyond solutions,” says UNDP Administrator, Achim Steiner.
In countries with very high human
development, for example, subscriptions to fixed broadband are growing 15 times
faster and the proportion of adults with tertiary education is growing more
than six times faster than in countries with low human development.
“What used to be ‘nice-to-haves’,
like going to university or access to broadband, are increasingly important for
success, but left only with the basics, people find the rungs knocked out of
their ladder to the future,” argues UNDP’s Pedro Conceição, Director of the HDR
Office, which pioneers a more holistic way to measure countries’ progress
beyond economic growth alone.
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The report analyzes inequality in
three steps: beyond income, beyond averages, and beyond today. But the problem
of inequality is not beyond solutions, it says, proposing a battery of policy
options to tackle it. It also views richness as going beyond the idea that
economic growth will automatically lead to development and wellbeing.
UNDP research shows that in 2018,
20 per cent of human development progress was lost due to the unequal
distribution of education, health and living standards. The report recommends
revamped policies in the areas of education, productivity and public spending.
As inequality begins even before
birth and can accumulate through adulthood, investing in young children’s
learning, health and nutrition are key. These investments must continue
throughout life, as they have an impact on earnings and productivity in the labour
UNDP observed that countries with
a more productive workforce generally have a lower concentration of wealth at
the top, which is enabled by policies that support stronger unions, the right
to a minimum wage, social protection and which bring more women into the
The report further highlights the
role of taxation, which cannot be looked at on its own. Rather, fair taxation should lie behind
policies that include greater public spending on health, education and greener
The report calls for
opportunities to be “seized quickly and shared broadly”.