While Barbados and other countries have made progress in minimizing the gap in basic living standards, a new United Nations report is warning that focus must be placed on climate change and technology to help drive human development over the next century.
But there was still a high level of perception of unfairness across societies, according to the Human Development Report 2019 titled Beyond Income, Beyond Averages, Beyond Today: Inequalities in Human Development in the 21st Century.
And while there have been decades of economic growth and prosperity, the seven-chapter report also urged governments to develop policies that would minimize the impact of climate change and technology use on human development.
The report said: “There should be a celebration of the remarkable progress that has enabled many people around the world to reach minimum standards of human development.
“But continuing the policies that have led to these successes alone is insufficient.
“Some people have been left behind.
“At the same time, many people’s aspirations are changing. It is short-sighted for societies to focus only on inequality in the most basic capabilities.
“Looking beyond today means scanning ahead to recognize and tackle the new forms of inequality in enhanced capabilities that are growing in importance.
“Climate change and technological transformations are adding to the urgency.”
Last year, the Human Development Index ranked Barbados ahead of its Caribbean counterparts at 56 out of 190 countries, which falls within the “very high human development” category.
The report shows that while women have higher life expectancy at birth and more years of schooling – for example, in Barbados female mean years of schooling is 10.9 years and males’ is 8.2 years – they have lower labour force participation rates than men.
“When they do participate, females still earn less than their male counterparts, generating the well-known gender pay gap,” it said.
UNDP’s Resident Representative for Barbados and the OECS Magdy Martinez Soliman said countries continued to “ride the crest of the inequality wave”.
“Inequalities linked to climate change, gender and violence among other factors, and the old sources of inequality – ethnicity and parents’ wealth – determine a person’s place in society no matter how hard they work and how smart they are,”Soliman said.
The report found that people across the world, of all political persuasions, increasingly believe that income inequality in their country should be reduced.
Some 17 per cent of children born in low human development countries in 2000 will have died before age 20, compared with just one per cent of children born in very high human development countries, the report said.
It added: “The second child is also unlikely to be in higher education.
“In low human development countries only three percent are.
“Circumstances almost entirely beyond their control have already set them on different and unequal, and likely irreversible paths.
“These inequalities in human development are a roadblock to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
The report suggested that action, though not easy was critical, adding that climate change and technology would play a significant role in shaping human development into the next century.
The UN report said: “Inequality and the climate crisis are interwoven, from emissions and impacts to policies and resilience.
“Climate change will hurt human development in many ways beyond crop failures and natural disasters.
“Between 2030 and 2050 climate change is expected to cause an additional 250,000 deaths a year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
“Hundreds of millions more people could be exposed to deadly heat by 2050, and the geographic range for disease vectors such as mosquitoes that transmit malaria or dengue will likely shift and expand.
“The overall impact on people will depend on their exposure and their vulnerability.
“Both factors are intertwined with inequality in a vicious circle.
“Climate change will hit the tropics harder first, and many developing countries are tropical.
“Yet developing countries and poor communities have less capacity than their richer counterparts to adapt to climate change and severe weather events.
“So the effects of climate change deepen existing social and economic fault lines.”
In the case of technology, the human development report said scientific progress and technological innovation have driven improvements in living standards throughout history and would likely continue to be “the fundamental driver of prosperity, pushing increases in productivity and hopefully enabling a transition to more sustainable patterns of production and consumption”.
But it pointed out that technological change has been disruptive before, and a lot should be learned from the past, adding that policymakers can shape the direction of technological change in ways that enhance human development.
The report said: “One key lesson is to ensure that major innovative disruptions help everyone, which requires equally innovative policies and perhaps new institutions.
“The current wave of technological progress will require other changes, including stronger antitrust policies and laws to govern the ethical use of data and artificial intelligence.
“Many of these will require international cooperation to succeed.
“Even if resources are available to undertake an agenda for convergence in both basic and enhanced capabilities, reducing inequalities is ultimately a societal and political choice.” [email protected]