People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 48

December 02, 2007

HDR 2008



The Rich-Poor Divide Widens Further


ONCE again, India’s ranking in the Human Development Index (HDI) has dropped. Last year, India ranked 126 amongst 177 countries. This year, the ranking has come down to 128, even behind Maldives. To be fair, however, India’s HDI value has grown marginally from 0.611 to 0.619. Yet, its lower rating is due to the fact that other developing countries have faired better. The report states: “While India is a high growth economy, the benefits have been unequally shared and there is a large human development backlog. Around 28 per cent of the population, some 320 million people live below the poverty line and three quarters of the poor are in rural areas.” With the continuing agrarian distress in the country, this only confirms what we have been stating in these columns regularly. Far from achieving “inclusive growth” as declared by the Eleventh Five Year Plan, two Indias are being created – the `shining’ and the `suffering’ – and the gap is widening.


The HDI is a summary measure monitoring long term progress in the average level of human development in three basic dimensions – a long and healthy life; access to knowledge; and, decent standard of living. These are measured by a series of quantitative data parameters.


The data in the report confirms the growing inequalities – between countries as well as within countries – between the rich and the poor in the phase of current globalisation. 40 per cent of world’s population living on less than $ 2 a day accounts for 5 per cent of global income while the richest 20 per cent accounts for three quarters of world income. More than 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in countries where income differentials are widening. Around ten million children die each year before the age of 5 and around 28 per cent of all children in the developing countries are undernourished.


This year’s HDR’s significance, however, lies in the fact that it has brought out an additional alarming dimension – climate change – which further accentuates this divide apart from threatening the very future of human civilisation. At the present rate the global temperature is expected to increase by 5 degrees Celsius in the 21st century, while the danger mark threatening life sustainability on the planet would be crossed at 2 degrees Celsius. If this is not arrested, then the worst sufferers would be 40 per cent of the world’s poor people – 2.6 billion.


Climate change occurs through the emission of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide that trap heat in the atmosphere. The current global release of such gases has exceeded the natural range of the last 650,000 years in the life of our planet. The main reason for this is the pattern of industrialisation, in pursuit of ever higher profits by capitalism, in the industrially-advanced countries. The carbon emission footprint of the USA is over 15 times that of India. If every person in the developing world were to have the same carbon footprint as one in USA or Canada, then the level of emissions would be 9 times higher than the limit required to sustain our planet.


Thus, the primary cause for bringing the world to such a disaster has been the predatory capriciousness of global capitalism. Not only have the developed countries enriched themselves at the expense of intensified exploitation of the developing world, but, ironically, the consequent climate change affects the people in the developing world most adversely.


Climate change will affect rainfall, temperature and water availability adversely affecting livelihood of billions dependent on agriculture in the world. Needless to add, India would be one of the worst sufferers. The melting of glaciers will affect the flows of river waters affecting the lives of billions of people. Particularly, the whole of South Asia would be affected with the retreat of the Himalayan glaciers. A 3-4 degree increase in the global temperature will displace millions due to flooding. The warming of the seas and land would lead to the extinction of one-third of our species.


The affects of such changes are already been felt. Some 262 million people had been adversely affected by climate disasters annually between 2000 and 2004. 98 per cent of these are in the developing countries. Out of every 1500 people affected, for instance, 1470 belong to the developing world while only one may belong to the industrially-developed countries. Such poor people are often forced to sell their productive assets or save on food, health and education, creating “life-long cycles of disadvantage”. Illustrating this, the report states: “Indian women born during a flood in the 1970s were 19 per cent less likely to have attended primary school.” Thus, the report warns: “Superimposing incremental climate change risks on (India’s) large human development deficit would compromise the ambition of inclusive growth.”


While the facts are startling and warrant immediate global attention and action, the proposals to tackle the situation have become controversial. The report prescribes a 50 per cent global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 compared to the 1990 levels for a sustainable future. To achieve this, it suggests that the developed countries must cut their emissions by 30 per cent by 2020 growing to 80 per cent by 2050. The developing countries are being asked to reduce emissions by 20 per cent by 2050.


Under the Kyoto Protocol, which runs till 2012, the major thrust of reducing emissions was on the developed countries while the developing countries were exempted. This was naturally so because it is the developed world that is overwhelmingly responsible for triggering this climate change. True to its nature and with imperialist arrogance, the USA refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. This HDR report comes on the eve of a crucial summit on climate change at Bali which will deliberate and hopefully decide on these matters. Given US imperialism’s intransigence, it continues to refuse to take any responsibility for being the major plunderer of world’s resources and the largest carbon emitter.


Unlike this HDR report, which prescribes solutions on the basis of total global emissions, the Indian prime minister at the recent G-8 Summit in Germany proposed that per capita emissions must be the basis for a solution. For instance, India’s per capita emission is 17 times less than that of the USA. USA, today, emits around 20 tonnes per capita while India emits around one tonne per capita. Reducing 80 per cent in USA would mean an emission of three tonnes per capita by 2050. Reduction of 20 per cent in India would mean 0.8 tonnes per capita by 2050. Thus, the threat to the planet and civilisation caused, in the first place, by the advanced capitalist countries is now to be met by the victims of this pattern of development – the developing countries - by bearing a burden three times greater. This imperialist logic of `equality’ and `justice’ cannot be accepted. India must insist that the criteria of per capita emissions must be the basis for a solution.