New report explores an experimental global index offering a new measurement of human progress that illustrates the challenge of tackling poverty and inequality while reducing the pressure human beings are exerting on the planet.

Kuala Lumpur, 16 December 2020Malaysia has scored a 0.810 in the Human Development Index (HDI) which puts the country in the very high human development category, or 62nd place out of 189 countries and territories. Malaysia’s score improved in comparison to what it had achieved last year, primarily because of improved life expectancy average at 76.2 years (76.0 previously), and Gross National Income per capita at (2017 PPP USD) 27,534 compared to (PPP USD) 27,227 in the previous cycle).

These are among the key findings of the 2020 Human Development Report (HDR) released today by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) entitled The Next Frontier: Human Development in the Anthropocene.

Between 1990 and 2019, Malaysia’s HDI value increased from 0.643 to 0.810, an increase of 26 percent. For the same periods, life expectancy at birth for Malaysians increased by 5.3 years, mean years of schooling increased by 3.8 years, and expected years of schooling increased by 3.9 years. Malaysia’s GNI per capita increased by about 177.3 percent between 1990 and 2019.

In 1990, the first Human Development Report introduced a new approach for advancing human wellbeing. The human development approach is about expanding the richness of human life, rather than simply the richness of the economy in which human beings live. Over the years, new measures or aspects of human development were introduced to complement the HDI, namely, the inequality adjusted HDI (IHDI), the Multi-dimensional Poverty Index (MPI), as well as specific indices to track gender equality.

In the 30th anniversary edition this year, the Report introduces a new experimental Planetary-Pressures Adjusted Human Development Index (PHDI) to account for the pressures that are put on the planet by human activity. The report argues that as people and planet enter an entirely new geological epoch, the Anthropocene or the Age of Humans, it is time for all countries to redesign their paths to progress by fully accounting for the dangerous pressures humans are putting on the planet, and dismantle the gross imbalances of power and opportunity that stands in the way of transformation.

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 wellbeing of the people and also the planet were central to defining humanity’s progress. With the resulting PHDI, a new global picture emerges, painting a less rosy but clearer assessment of human progress.

“Humans wield more power over the planet than ever before. In the wake of COVID-19, record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented storms and forest fires, and rising 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. As this report shows, no country in the world has yet achieved very high human development without putting immense strain on the planet. We could be the first generation to right this wrong. That is the next frontier for human development,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator in conjunction with the global launch of the report in Sweden.

“The 2020 Human Development Report argues that we must move beyond seeking to solve discreet problems with singular solutions. Instead, we must connect the dots and equip ourselves to navigate complex, interconnected social and ecological systems – in a way that we create positive reinforcements. The need for this is illustrated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was both created and sustained by planetary and social anomalies,” said Niloy Banerjee, Resident Representative for UNDP Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam.

The next frontier for human development will require working with and not against nature, while transforming social norms, values, working closely with governments and designing intelligent incentives for change. The report recommends creating real, lasting change, at the nexus of People, Prosperity, and Planet.

  • Nature-based solutions: Nature is the base of our progress not a constraint. We must recognise that we are part of nature, not separate from it, and seeking solutions that work with – not against – nature can help both people and planet to prosper.
  • Incentives: Too often the incentives and regulations that influence our decision making promote, rather than prevent, planetary damage. According to the IMF’s (2015) figures cited in the report, the full cost to societies of publicly financed subsidies for fossil fuels – including indirect costs – is estimated at over $5 trillion a year or 6.5 percent of global GDP. Getting carbon pricing right is a critical element of a comprehensive package for emissions reductions, to remain within planetary boundaries.
  • Social norms: Everyone has a role to play, but people need to be inspired to play it and need be given the opportunity to act. Studies suggest that 80 percent of people already think it is important to protect the planet, but fewer than 50 percent are likely to take action to do so. People’s behaviour can be particularly influenced by that of those around them.

“We are in an unprecedented moment in the history of our planet with warning signs writ large. We have a choice. We need to design and speedily execute the social, economic, and environmental transformations needed to rebalance our social and planetary systems, in order for humans and the planet to thrive together. We hope that this report will be a resource to help Malaysia to make informed choices and investments, as it not only powers its way out of the COVID-19 aftermath, but also as it sets course for a more resilient, future-focused economy. We need nothing short of a great transformation in the way we live, work, and interact to help chart a course toward the next frontier of human progress,” Mr. Banerjee concluded.

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


For media queries and requests for interviews, please contact:

Chin Su Ci, Communications Associate, UNDP Malaysia


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