Prof Reyers plays instrumental role in UN’s latest Human Development Report

Posted on November 03, 2022

Prof Belinda Reyers, Professor of Sustainability Science in the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, has spent the past three years working with the team behind the UN Human Development Report as a member of their Advisory Group and a member of the High-Level Advisory Panel on the Special Report on Human Security.

This annual Human Development Report (HDR 2021-22) titled: “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World” was released in September and demonstrated how multiple layers of uncertainty are stacking up and interacting to unsettle life in unprecedented ways.

Prof Reyers explained, “These days, we seem to reel from one crisis straight into another while also dealing with what the report calls a new “uncertainty complex” of sweeping social and economic shifts, dangerous planetary changes, and concerning increases in polarisation. It comes, therefore, as no surprise that the report finds that the Human Development Index, an annual measure of a nation’s health, education, and standard of living, has declined globally for two years in a row, falling back to its 2016 levels, reversing much of the progress made over the past decade towards the Sustainable Development Goals. These declines are being felt everywhere, with 90% of the world’s countries reporting a decrease in human development.

As a South African researcher working on understanding and engaging with the complex interdependencies and relationships connecting people and the planet, Prof Reyers has been able to help ensure the reports bring in more integrated perspectives on human development to acknowledge the importance of climate change, biodiversity loss, environmental degradation and pollution on human development and inequality. As she made clear in her presentation at the launch of the 2020 HDR hosted by the Prime Ministers of Sweden and Barbados and the President of South Africa, “these are no longer just environmental risks; they are now some of the most important development risks facing the world” She has also been able to support more integrative and systemic perspectives navigating our way through these crises and uncertainties to, as the report says: “reimagine our futures, to renew and adapt our institutions and to craft new stories about who we are and what we value”.

As someone who is committed to improving our scientific and political abilities to recognise, make visible and reimagine the complex social-ecological interdependencies linking people as individuals, but also as collectives, with species and ecosystems of all types, conditions and at all scales, Prof Reyers has been grateful to be included in the process of developing these reports. She has also used the process to inform and shape her current research. As she gets to conclude in the report, it is “in making clear how these interconnections shape identities, cultures, relationships, minds, mental and physical wellbeing and ultimately freedoms and choices in dynamic ways, [that] science and policy can overcome problematic divisions between environment and development to focus instead on the quality of relationships connecting people and planet and the reconfigurations of relationships needed to enhance capacities to navigate uncertain futures.

- Author NAS

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