What will the world look like 20 years from now?

by Stella Dawson | https://twitter.com/stelladawson | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 23 May 2013 08:50 GMT

A school girl uses a mobile phone to take pictures of artifacts on display at Kabul National Museum on Sept. 25, 2011. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

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U.N. Human Development Report in 2013 raises questions about the future, given rapid rise of developing countries. Narrowing gender gap and halting climate change are key to development, it says.

The rapid growth of developing countries over the past decade and their surprising resilience to the 2008-2009 financial crisis have narrowed world inequality and strengthened human development.

This story is not a new one. What is gripping about the U.N.’s latest measurement of human progress in its 2013 Human Development Report: The Rise of the South are the stories behind its statistics. Khalid Malik, director of the report, said the speed and scale of change is unprecedented, comparable to a second Industrial Revolution but affecting far more people.

The numbers raise some intriguing questions about what the world will look like if current policies are followed - notably on gender, environment and technology.

Here’s a sampling:  

  • March of the Middle Class: Worldwide, the middle class will grow 272 percent by 2030 to 4.9 billion people, two-thirds of whom will live in Asia-Pacific. That compares with 1.8 billion in the middle class today, mostly in Europe and the Americas. This portends major political shifts since a rising middle class often is associated with democratization and demands for more accountable government - witness the Arab Spring.
  • Climate Change is a Poor People’s Issue: Environmental disaster, defined as a worsening of the current pace of climate change, would throw 3.1 billion more people into extreme poverty by 2050. That’s almost as many people as currently live in extreme poverty.  It would effectively halt or reverse the decades of human development that has been enjoyed in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Women Hold the Key:  Advancing gender equality correlates strongly with progress in human development. Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Niger rank at the bottom for gender inequality, but even developed countries can score poorly. The United States - ranked 3rd in overall human development - is in 42nd   place based upon the inequality of achievement between men and women in labour markets, empowerment and reproductive health.  The Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland rank at the top for gender equality.
  • Girl Power: Women’s education has a powerful impact on development, more so than household income or wealth. A survey of 13 countries showed a consistent pattern, with child mortality rates falling sharply the more education women received. For example, in Ethiopia, mortality by age five fell from 139 per 1,000 live births for women with no education to 54 for those with a secondary education. In Rwanda it fell from 174 to 43.
  • Click: Internet use rose more than 30 percent a year in about 60 developing countries between 2000 and 2010. Of the 10 countries with the most users of popular social networking sites such as Facebook, six were in the South.
  • Moving Ahead of G7: Forty percent of global output will come from Brazil, China and India by 2050, outpacing the combined output of most G7 economies - Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy.  Already 40 of the 160 developing countries in the world are growing at a much faster pace than was predicted by the U.N. in 1990, showing that a pragmatic mix of policies can accelerate growth, not merely following the dictates of the West.
  • Human Development vs. Inequality: Over the last decade, Norway has ranked at the top of the Human Development Index, followed by Australia and the United States. However, adjusted for inequality, the United States falls into 16th place, showing it is not living up to its full development potential. At the bottom for Human Development are Niger, Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.

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