By the year 2050, world income will reach more than $135 trillion, up from $35 trillion today, according to the World Bank's new book, Responsible Growth for the New Millennium: Integrating Society, Ecology and the Economy. The book suggests that 2050 could be the time when the dream of a world free of poverty becomes a reality, or it could represent a time of global uncertainty, social unrest, and environmental degradation.
"It will all depend on the options and priorities we take today," says James D.Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank, adding that "a new era of enlightened public policy must be based on responsible wealth creation that accelerates economic growth, particularly in developing countries, but in an environmentally and socially responsible manner."
Growing to a world economy of this size poses enormous risks to the natural environment, and the risks are greatest in developing countries.
According to the book's introductory chapter, the world's population would be 9 billion by 2050, up from 6 billion today. Almost all of that increase will be in the cities and towns of developing countries.
It is the average per capita GDP growth of 2 percent in rich countries over the last 20 years and 3.3 percent in low and middle income countries that leads to the $135 trillion. Of this, 40 percent of world income would be in low- and middle-income countries by 2050, twice their share of 20 percent today.
With per capita incomes in low and middle income countries rising at 3.3 percent a year from today forward, the average per capita income for today's developing countries would be US$6,300 by 2050 according to Responsible Growth. Basic human needs for shelter, food, and clothing could be more than met.
And people would be healthier and more skilled. Even pessimistic estimates place life expectancy in today's low and middle income countries at 72 years (up from 64 today) and under-5 mortality at 17 per 1,000 live births (down from 85 today). Adult illiteracy rates could be less than 5 percent, a fifth of today's 25 percent.
The world of 2050 will have more than 65 percent of the population in urban areas. The infrastructure and housing needs, if city dwellers are to enjoy healthy and productive lives, will increase dramatically. But, according to the book this also presents a great opportunity. With most of these investments still to be designed, they could contribute to environmentally sustainable urban environments.
Ian Johnson, World Bank vice president for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development, emphasizes "Many decisions in the near term will have long term consequences. Much of the infrastructure built in the next 20 years will still be with us in 2050. Perhaps more important, some choices are irreversible or can be reversed only with great difficulty."
Species loss represents a tragic example. And CO2, (carbon dioxide), once emitted, has an atmospheric lifetime of 120 years.
Some of the hardest issues will involve tradeoffs between preserving natural systems and pressing forward with development. Truly global issues will require collective action on an unprecedented scale.
"Water and energy are the most basic infrastructure services that people need to sustain life. Both are prerequisites for economic growth. Clearly, sustainable development will require improved management of both water and energy, and greater attention to the provision of these services," says Jamal Saghir, director of Energy & Water, World Bank.
Incomes and pressures on the global environment are now distributed very unequally, the book claims. In addition, poor countries suffer four times the incidence of environmental disease observed in rich countries dealing with indoor air pollution and hygienic practices could have a major impact on the global burden of disease.
Poor people have little voice in the decisions that affect them. Poor households depend on the quality of local natural resources for their livelihood. Poor countries and poor households are inordinately at risk from natural disasters. Small island states, South Asian countries, and Sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable to global climate change. Investment decisions in the near future must factor in these risks, and also provide some insurance against undesirable surprises, concludes the introductory chapter.
But developing countries, and especially those which are heavily dependent on the agricultural sector, face other challenges as a result of the imbalances in the global trade system.
According to World Bank Economic Adviser Richard Newfarmer, "Expanding trading opportunities for developing countries holds enormous promise for promoting growth and reducing poverty. But it won't happen automatically. Governments in developing countries have to invest in people, in infrastructure, and in improving their own investment climate, so their entrepreneurs can take advantage of those opportunities. And rich countries have to do their part – by reducing tariffs and subsidies that hurt development, and by increasing development assistance for those countries left behind in the globalization process."
The authors of the book identify three fundamental challenges on the road to responsible growth: dealing with near-term poverty and social inequality; improving governance and capacity in developing countries; and investing in new technologies, particularly agricultural technologies and treatments for infectious diseases.
(China.org.cn September 30, 2004)