The report starts with a quote from Martin Luther King referring to the urgency of the problem, in a somewhat pessimistic manner:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. We are faced now with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: Too late.”
It first addresses the challenges of climate change, in terms of human development. On this section, it refers back to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), thus recognising the "unequivocal" evidences of climate change. In this context, it identifies five "specific risk-multipliers for human development reversals":
- Reduced agricultural production and food security
- Heightened water insecurity
- Rising seas and increased exposure to coastal flooding and extreme weather events
- The collapse of ecosystems and biodiversity
- Increased human health risks
"They mirror the relationship between economic growth, industrial development and access to modern energy services. That relationship draws attention to an important human development concern. Climate change and the curtailment of excessive fossil fuel use may be the greatest challenge of the 21st Century, but an equally urgent and more immediate challenge is the expanded provision of affordable energy services to the world’s poor."
The report urges to action based on social justice and ecological interdependence, but also on economic grounds:
"Article Three of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights establishes that “everyone has a right to life, liberty and personal security.” Inaction in the face of the threat posed by climate change would represent a very immediate violation of that universal right. (...) The ethical foundation of any society has to be measured partly on the basis of how it treats its most vulnerable members."
On economic grounds, it refers to the Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change commissioned by the United Kingdom Government, which strongly concluded that prevention is better, and cheaper, than inaction, suggesting urgent, immediate, and rapid reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases.
It also raises the ethical issue of cross-generational equity in terms of sustainability:
"Denying the case for action today on the grounds that future generations with a lower weight should be expected to shoulder a greater burden of mitigation costs is not an ethically defensible proposition—and it is inconsistent with the moral responsibilities that come with membership of a human community linked across generations."
One other critical ethical issue covered by the UNDP in this report refers to the inequalities in climate change impacts:
"While climate disasters are affecting more and more people across the world, the overwhelming majority lives in developing countries. (...) The processes by which (climatic) risk is converted into vulnerability (measure of capacity to manage risk) in any country are shaped by the underlying state of human development, including the inequalities in income, opportunity and political power that marginalize the poor. Developing countries and their poorest citizens are most vulnerable to climate change."
The report then draws strategies for mitigations, such as setting targets (post-Kyoto), carbon-pricing, together with governmental regulations and international cooperation.
At the national level, the nature of the risks associated varies across regions and countries, as well as their capacity to adapt to climate change, therefore concluding that some countries - and some people - are far better equipped than others to respond.
"Adaptation in the developed world has taken many forms. The ‘floating home’ owners (...) provide a household-level illustration of behavioural shift . In other cases, business is being forced to adapt. Many developed countries have conducted detailed studies on climate change impacts. Several are moving towards the implementation of adaptation strategies."
However, in the poorest countries, adaptation is largely a matter of self-help. "Millions of people with barely enough resources to feed, clothe and shelter their families are being forced to direct money and labour to adaptation."
"Human development itself is the most secure foundation for adaptation to climate change. Policies that promote equitable growth and the diversification of livelihoods, expand opportunities in health and education, provide social insurance for vulnerable populations, improve disaster management and support post-emergency recovery all enhance the resilience of poor people facing climate risks."
Finally, and urging for international cooperation the report states:
"With their historic responsibility for the energy emissions that are driving climate change and their far deeper current carbon footprints, rich countries have a moral obligation to support adaptation in developing countries. They also have the financial resources to act on that obligation."
Human Development Report 2007/2008, UNDP
Human Development Report Office, UNDP
Assessment Reports, IPCC
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN
Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury