wignaraja1_Jerry RedfernLightRocket via Getty_Images_singapore skyline Jerry Redfern/LightRocket via Getty Images

Overcoming the Climate Challenge to Human Development

Many countries' development models rely heavily on resource use, which is not sustainable in the long term. In the future, we must encourage countries to pursue prosperity while minimizing their carbon footprint by applying the knowledge, science, and technology now at our disposal.

NEW YORK – In his autobiography, Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, told the story of how leadership and grit transformed a tiny nation on a sandbar into an open, competitive, and prosperous metropolis.

In the decades since, Singapore has been governed by a famously efficient and graft-free political class, and it now boasts a highly skilled workforce. In the United Nations Development Programme’s latest Human Development Index (HDI) – first conceived 30 years ago by the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and the economist Mahbub ul Haq – the country ranks eleventh out of 189 overall.

But when the HDI is adjusted to consider carbon dioxide emissions and so-called material footprint (which measures the share of global extraction of raw materials in a country’s final demand), Singapore’s rank drops by 92 positions. No country has ever managed to reach a high level of human development with low resource use, and Singapore, having virtually no natural resources of its own, imports almost all of the commodities it needs. There is nothing unusual about this; Singapore is emblematic of growth across the planet. But the natural environment cannot sustain this form of growth and development.

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