Introduction

2021/22 Human Development Report

We live in a world of worry: the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine and elsewhere, record-breaking temperatures, fires and storms. Each is a troubling manifestation of an emerging, new uncertainty complex (figure 1) that is unsettling lives around the world. It is driven by three novel, interacting layers of uncertainty at a global scale: the destabilized planetary systems of the Anthropocene, the pursuit of sweeping societal transformations to ease planetary pressures and widespread, intensifying polarization.

Figure 1 A new uncertainty complex

Feelings of insecurity are on the rise nearly everywhere—a trend at least a decade in the making. That trend began well before the Covid-19 pandemic, which for first the first time ever, sent global human development in reverse—for two years straight (figure 2).

The pervasive rise in insecurity has occurred against a backdrop of incredible global progress (notwithstanding the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic) on conventional measures of wellbeing, such as the Human Development Index.

What is going on? How does the wide-angle lens of human development help us understand and respond to this apparent paradox of progress with insecurity? Such questions animate this year’s Report.

The 2019 Human Development Report explored inequalities in human development.

The 2020 Human Development Report focused on how those inequalities drive and are exacerbated by the dangerous planetary change of the Anthropocene.

UNDP’s 2022 Special Report on Human Security examined the emergence of new forms of insecurity.

The 2021/2022 Human Development Report unites and extends these discussions under the theme of uncertainty—how it is changing, what it means for human development and how we can thrive in the face of it.

The central message of this year’s Report is straightforward: to turn new uncertainties from a threat to an opportunity, we must double down on human development to unleash our creative and cooperative capacities.

To do so we must:

  • Expand human agency and freedoms, in addition to wellbeing achievements.
  • Widen the vista on human behaviour, going beyond models of rational self-interest to include emotions, cognitive biases and the critical roles of culture.
  • Implement smart, practical policies that focus on the three I’s:
    • Investment: to form the capabilities people will need in the future and enable socioeconomic and planetary conditions for human flourishing
    • Insurance: to protect people from the unavoidable contingencies of uncertain times and safeguard people’s capabilities, including their fundamental freedoms (human security).
    • Innovation: to generate capabilities that might not exist today.

The direction we head from here is up to us.

Part I

Uncertain times, unsettled lives

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