The 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene, introduces an experimental new lens to its annual Human Development Index (HDI).


Carbon-intensive growth has run its course; the next frontier for human development will require working with nature

In the 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, an experimental global index offers a new measurement of human progress that illustrates the challenge of tackling poverty and inequality while easing planetary pressure.


Beijing, 15 December 2020 - The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis facing the world, but unless humans release their grip on nature, it won’t be the last, according to the Human Development Report (HDR) 2020 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which includes a new experimental index on human progress that takes into account countries’ carbon dioxide emissions and material footprint.


The 30th anniversary edition of the HDR introduces Planetary-Pressures Adjusted HDI

The report lays out a stark choice for world leaders - take bold steps to reduce the immense pressure that is being exerted on the environment and the natural world, or humanity’s progress will stall.

“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, record-breaking temperatures and spiraling inequality, it is time to use that power to redefine what we mean by progress, where our carbon and consumption footprints are no longer hidden,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator.

“As this report shows, no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet. But we could be the first generation to right this wrong. That is the next frontier for human development,” he said.

The report argues that as people and planet enter an entirely new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, or the Age of Humans, it is time to for all countries to redesign their paths to progress by fully accounting for the dangerous pressures humans put on the planet, and dismantle the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that prevent change.

To illustrate the point, the 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, The Next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene, introduces an experimental new lens to its annual Human Development Index (HDI).

By adjusting the HDI, which measures a nation’s health, education, and standards of living, to include two more elements: a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and its material footprint, the index shows how the global development landscape would change if both the wellbeing of people and also the planet were central to defining humanity’s progress.

With the resulting Planetary-Pressures Adjusted HDI - or PHDI - a new global picture emerges, painting a less rosy but clearer assessment of human progress. For example, more than 50 countries drop out of the very high human development group, reflecting their dependence on fossil fuels and material footprint.


Despite greater commitment to nature, China’s HDI is also affected by planetary pressures

China’s HDI value for 2019 is 0.761— which puts the country in the high human development category. This is above the average of 0.753 for countries in this group. But when China’s HDI is discounted for planetary pressure, the HDI falls to 0.671, a loss of 11.8 percent. This is less than the average loss due to planetary pressure for very high HDI countries, which is 15.4 percent, but greater than the average loss of high HDI countries, at 8.6 percent.

“It is clear that humanity must transition to greener pathways and that human development cannot be a binary choice between people and the environment. The Planetary Pressures-Adjusted Human Development Index has redefined how nations should assess their progress and shown that there is much work to be done, both around the world and in China, for people and planet to prosper together,” said Beate Trankmann, UNDP Resident Representative in China.

The report highlights the renewed commitments made by several countries to tackle carbon emissions, including China’s announcement of plans to peak its emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. China is leading the global charge for promoting renewable energy with new investment amounting to US$ 90.1 billion.

China has also engaged in the evolution towards carbon pricing around the world. Building on its regional experience, China launched its first National Energy Trading System in 2017. The programme, linked to the country’s nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement, covers 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the energy sector, making it the world’s largest and accounting for 30 percent of national emissions.


Carbon-intensive growth has run its course; the next frontier for human development will require working with nature

The next frontier for human development will require working with and not against nature, while transforming social norms, values, and government and financial incentives, the report argues.

For example, new estimates project that by 2100 the poorest countries in the world could experience up to 100 more days of extreme weather due to climate change each year- a number that could be cut in half if the Paris Agreement on climate change is fully implemented.

And yet fossil fuels are still being subsidized: the full cost to societies of publicly financed subsidies for fossil fuels - including indirect costs - is estimated at over US$5 trillion a year, or 6.5 percent of global GDP, according to International Monetary Fund figures cited in the report.

Reforestation and taking better care of forests could alone account for roughly a quarter of the pre-2030 actions we must take to stop global warming from reaching two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

“The next frontier for human development is not about choosing between people or trees; it’s about recognizing, today, that human progress driven by unequal, carbon-intensive growth has run its course,” said Pedro Conceição.

“By tackling inequality, capitalizing on innovation and working with nature, human development could take a transformational step forward to support societies and the planet together,” he said.


To learn more about the 2020 Human Development report and UNDP’s analysis on the experimental Planetary Pressures-Adjusted HDI, visit




UNDP is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and planet. Learn more at or follow at @UNDP.


Media Contacts:

Human Development Report Office| Anna Ortubia, Communications Specialist |  

UNDP China | Yue Zhao, Communications Officer |

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