Protecting Our Human World Order: A Human Security Compass for a New Sustainability Decade

By Oscar A. Gómez with contributions from Hanatani Atsushi, Murotani Ryutaro, Kubokura Ken, Makimoto Saeda, Muto Ako and Jacob Assa

This paper locates human security ideas vis-à-vis the concept of sustainability in the context of the new international cooperation challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The main aim is to show how a robust understanding of human security is necessary for rethinking sustainability beyond a narrow focus on environmental problems. The paper provides first a historical review of the overlaps and complementarities between the two concepts as described through the series of Human Development Reports. The review shows how both ideas were initially downplayed and constrained to narrow understandings for over a decade. Sustainability eventually proved broadly appealing to the scientific community and the Global South, as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) show. Still, it failed to include any serious concern for shocks, downside risks and crisis management. The human security approach emphasizes protection and resilience, offering a better frame to cover the whole crisis management cycle of response, recovery, prevention and preparedness. It promotes the consolidation of responsive and capable systems to cope with risks and vulnerabilities, both objective and subjective, by the whole of society. It also advocates protecting human dignity in crises and upholding global agreement on the importance of human life and dignity beyond borders, a notion menaced by increasing protectionism and nationalism worldwide. After the general discussion, we review specific shocks or downside risks compromising prospects for future generations, namely infectious diseases, disasters, climate change, conflict, displacement and technological change. The last section calls for promoting the engagement of the scientific community and actors in the Global South around human security ideas to move forward their operationalization.