Haitian Students Breathe New Life into Depleted Pine Forest A new UN-commissioned report warns that unless checked, environmental hazards could curb or even halt the good progress being made to raise developing nations out of poverty.

The UNDP (UN Development Program) released its 2011 Report – Sustainability and Equity in Copenhagen (November 2) noting that by mid-century, escalating environmental hazards threaten to put the poorest countries at disproportionate risk from “climate-driven disasters such as drought and flooding and exposure to air and water pollution."

According to UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, “Sustainability is not exclusively or even primarily an environmental issue.”  Rather, she said, it is about becoming aware that “everything we do has consequences for the 7 billion of us here today, as well as for the billions more who will follow, for centuries to come.”

Since 1990, the UNDP’s yearly Human Development Index (HDI) has challenged using purely economic measures for national achievement and has included health, education and income to track the global progress in overall living standards. The report comes as the global community is preparing for a landmark UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.

The UNDP points out that between 1970 and 2010, countries ranking in the lowest 25% on the HDI index had improved their overall status by 82% and had the potential to improve their rankings even more in the next 40 years. Nevertheless, it noted that “income distribution has worsened, grave gender imbalances still persist and accelerating environmental destruction put a double burden of deprivation on the poorest.”

Even half of worldwide malnutrition is attributable to environmental factors, according to the report which cites as examples, “water pollution and drought-driven scarcity, perpetuating a vicious cycle of impoverishment and ecological damage.”

High living standards don’t need to be carbon-fueled as is the case in the richest countries, said Helen Clark who recommended instead, “Investments that improve equity – in access, for example, to renewable energy, water and sanitation and reproductive healthcare.”

Other recommendations in the report included a tax on foreign exchange trading to boost development funding which is at historic lows.  A tax of just .005 percent “could raise $40 billion yearly or more,” the report said.

Norway, Australia and the Netherlands topped the index of 187 nations surveyed, while Congo, Niger and Burundi were listed last.

(Photo © UN/Logan Abassi)