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Human Development Report: Report 2021/2022, Uncertain times, unsettled lives Shaping our future in a transforming world



January, 2024


  • United Nations Development Programme


We live in a world of worry. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, which has driven reversals in human development in almost every country and continues to spin off variants unpredictably. War in Ukraine and elsewhere, more human suffering amid a shifting geopolitical order and strained multilateral system. Record-breaking temperatures, fires and storms, each an alarm bell from planetary systems increasingly out of whack. Acute crises are giving way to chronic, layered, interacting uncertainties at a global scale, painting a picture of uncertain times and unsettled lives. Uncertainty is not new. Humans have long worried about plagues and pestilence, violence and war, floods and droughts. Some societies have been brought to their knees by them. At least as many have embraced emerging, unsettling realities and found clever ways to thrive. There are no inevitabilities, just tough unknowns whose best answer is a doubling down on human development to unleash the creative and cooperative capacities that are so essentially human. Novel layers of uncertainties are interacting to create new kinds of uncertainty— a new uncertainty complex— never seen in human history (figure 1). In addition to the everyday uncertainty that people have faced since time immemorial, we are now navigating uncharted waters, caught in three volatile crosscurrents: • The dangerous planetary change of the Anthropocene.1 • The pursuit of sweeping societal transformations on par with the Industrial Revolution. • The vagaries and vacillations of polarized societies. Navigating this new uncertainty complex is hampered by persistent deprivations and inequalities in human development. The past decade finally placed inequality under a spotlight, but less illuminated were the ways that inequalities and uncertainty contribute to insecurity and vice versa. The variation in opportunity and outcome among and within nations is mirrored by— and interacts with— the volatility that people experience in their lives. Complicating matters is a geopolitical order in flux, hamstringing a multilateral system designed for postwar, not postmillennium, challenges and creaking under the weight of naked national interests.


Aall, P., and Crocker, C. A. 2019; Aas Rustad, S. 2021; Aas Rustad, S., Reagan, R., Bruch, C., Dupuy, K., Mwesigye, F., McNeish, J.-A., and VanDeveer, S. 2022; Bachelet, M. 2022; Badarne, M.-O. 2008; Cai, Y. 2020; Dallman, M. F. 2010; Ellis, E. 2022 and others


United Nations Development Programme

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United Nations Development Programme