New threats to human security in the Anthropocene: Demanding greater solidarity

Friday, 25 February, 2022

New threats to human security in the Anthropocene: Demanding greater solidarity

New Report by UNDP | Published in February 2022

COVID-19 has deepened pre-existing vulnerabilities, while unmasking new and interlinked threats to human security. This new UNDP report explores human security in relation to rapid urbanization, digitalization, violent conflict, horizontal inequalities, and evolving challenges to healthcare systems, while presenting a way forward to build resilience against today’s interconnected threats.


Covid-19 has affected everyone, imperiling every dimension of our well-being and injecting an acute sense of fear across the globe. It is not hard to understand how Covid-19 has led people to feel more insecure but fears were growing pre-pandemic. While the world was reaching unprecedented levels of the Human Development Index (HDI); an estimated 6 out of 7 people globally felt insecure in the years leading to the pandemic.

And this feeling of insecurity was not only high—it had been growing in most countries with data, including a surge in some countries with the highest HDI values. For the first time, indicators of human development have declined—and drastically. In 2021, even with the availability of very unequally distributed Covid-19 vaccines, the economic recovery that started in many countries and the partial return to schools, the crisis deepened in health, with a drop in life expectancy at birth. And the HDI, adjusted for Covid-19, had yet to recover about five years of progress, according to new simulations.

It is not hard to understand how Covid-19 has made people feel more insecure. But what accounts for the startling split between improvements in wellbeing achievements and declines in people’s perception of security? That is the motivating question for this Report. In addressing it, we hope to avoid returning to pathways of human development with human insecurity.

Behind this development-security disconnect looms the Anthropocene context. Development approaches with a strong focus on economic growth over equitable human development have led to stark and growing inequalities and destabilized processes at the planetary scale. Our pursuit of development has neglected our embeddedness in nature, leading to new threats as a byproduct of development: worsening health, increased food insecurity, and more frequent disasters. Climate change alone—beyond the effect of pollution or zoonotic diseases—is expected to have significant effects on mortality. By 2100, the number of estimated deaths associated with climate change (in a scenario with very high GHG emissions) could be comparable to some of the leading deaths causes today.

The Report revisits the human security concept to understand what it implies for the Anthropocene context. It explores how the new generation of interacting threats, playing out in the new context of the Anthropocene: the downsides of digital technology, violent conflict, horizontal inequalities, and evolving challenges to healthcare systems. It is the interconnected nature of these threats, which calls for a new approach that goes beyond tackling them individually when designing or evaluating policy.

Solidarity recognizes that human security in the Anthropocene must now go beyond securing individuals and their communities; to consider systematically the interdependence across people and between people and the planet. It is protection, empowerment and solidarity working together that advances human security in the Anthropocene context.

Alarmingly, the Report also finds that perceptions of human insecurity are associated with low interpersonal trust, independently of one’s financial situation. 

In addressing human insecurity how do we attend to the conditions of trust—across people, between people and institutions, across countries?

This Report takes the view that agency lies at the core of an expanded human security framework. Agency reminds us that wellbeing achievements alone are not all we should consider when evaluating policies or assessing progress. Agency will also help avoid the pitfalls of partial solutions, such as delivering protection with no attention to disempowerment or committing to solidarity while leaving some lacking protection.

Access the full report here or download the attached PDF.