Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Matt my mate 2: Stop the name-calling

The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) ranks Australia in second place for 2009 (according to Wikipedia). Maybe it has to do with how much the collectivity does to ensure the quality of living of all individuals, regardless of their individual condition. There are filthy-rich people, but there are no poor. Like in Norway. Which overrides the argument that the rich get richer to the expense of the poor and highlights the responsibility for the rich to reduce socioeconomic inequality. Start by eradicating poverty. China can teach us how.

How can we determine if Australia is doing as much for its citizens in socioeconomic terms as it is doing in environmental terms? Is the government jargon about Climate Change aligned with effective public policy towards the betterment of the country's environmental performance level?

I was wondering how can we compare two indexes that could allow us to incorporate the HDI with some other measurement of environmental performance of countries. So I took the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) and I took as samples some countries I have visited, to compare what the stats say with what I have witnessed. And I found a couple of very interesting things. I assumed both HDI and EPI were comparable methodologies, so what I did was add both rankings for any one country and divide that resulting number by two. In one word: average.

There is an evident leadership among a very few countries that are both in the HDI and EPI Top 10. Of the countries I have visited, only four are such leaders: France, Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Most of the sampled countries I have visited in the last two years -six of them- rank outside either of the two Top 100 (yes, one hundred.) That's because I have been living in Beijing and traveling around Southeast Asia. Of these countries, three rank outside both Top 100 indexes: Burma, Indonesia, and Cambodia, which is, by the way, the country I have ever visited that ranks lowest in both indexes. Therefore, the poorest country I have ever visited.

Most poverty I have seen is very distant, geographically, from the richest I have visited.

This shows me two trends: first, that Scandinavian countries have done something right (in fact, four of the five Nordic countries feature in one of the two Top 10s). Second, that Southeast Asia will be in the top list of countries needing more attention in terms of cooperation for Climate Change adaptation. Definitely, dozens of African countries will be there too.

How can we demand accountability from the institutions in charge?

The rich have to pay. It is clear by now that there will be no agreement about who should pay how much. One alternative to the deadlock and the name-calling is to have countries pay in accordance with the volume of their military expenditures. Show me your big guns. And your money. With a similar parameter we may determine how to prioritize the assignment of cooperation: according to the rate of reduction of military expenditures by those countries more in need.

It may sound a bit coercive, but it would be a way to organize cooperation in terms of virtue from the receiving countries. For this, the major military sellers in the world (you name them) would have to agree that their business would be running low for a while.

Are we negotiating in Copenhagen in these terms? Or are we going to discuss carbon emissions, as if 350 parts per million or 400 were better than the 280 ppm of pre-industrial times?

And stop the name-calling. Because many countries perform far worse in the HDI than in the EPI. Like United States, Japan, and Israel. Others perform way better, like Brazil, The Philippines, and Germany. In modern days of severe environmental degradation, which country is richer then: Costa Rica, ranking an average 29 in both indexes, or Israel, 38? Or could we also say that Costa Rica (29), Australia (24), and the United States (26) have a similar development?

Where would you prefer to live?

1 comment:

Mark Chenery said...

I love your idea of combining the EPI with the HDI to rank countries. It's easy to treat poverty as if it simply means "less money", but doesn't really tell us anything concrete.

The HDI already goes someway towards correcting this typical GDP measure, but adding the EPI also helps.

I just wanted to say good work and nice thinking.