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As the global population approaches 8 billion, is equal access to opportunity for all possible?

Global population growth is a testament to human progress, with an eight-fold increase in the number of humans alive since 1800

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Global population will reach 8 billion in 2022 and 10.9 billion by 2100.
Global population will reach 8 billion in 2022 and 10.9 billion by 2100.

by George Pyrgos and Greta Ruffino*

Global population growth is a testament to human progress, with an eight-fold increase in the number of humans alive since 1800. In 2015, global GDP was 90 times higher than in 1820. Driven by improvements in global health, prosperity and stability, humans today live longer, safer and healthier lives than at any point in history.

There’s much to be proud of, including lower infant and mother mortality rates, which means more people reach adulthood. Medical advances and economic growth have also resulted in longer lifespans and improved quality of life. Meanwhile, technology continues to broaden the horizons of human development and achievement. However, this progress has not been evenly distributed and inequality, discrimination, violence and existential threats continue to blight the lives of billions.

The poorest 50% of the world share only 8.5% of total global income. In addition, the global gender gap has increased by a generation, while racial and ethnic origin is a factor in multidimensional poverty. Furthermore, climate change is expected to push 68-135 million extra people into poverty by 2030. Against an ongoing global pandemic, increasing geopolitical tensions, economic instability, rising inflation and the ever more visible impacts of climate change, inequality continues to define human existence for many.

These challenges are too great to be resolved by individual efforts, even those rolled out at scale. Rather, securing our future and building a more equitable world for current and future generations requires global collaboration, collective effort and responsible leadership.

We asked six Young Global Leaders to share their perspectives on how leaders can ensure equal access to opportunity for all as we enter this new chapter in human progress.

Ben Skinner
Founder and President, Transparentem

Equal access to opportunity means equal rights to fair labour standards and environmental justice. That is particularly true for the quarter of the global population taking the first step on the ladder out of absolute poverty, especially for the 9.2% still in extreme poverty. A key accelerant is transparency initiatives, backed by independent investigations at all tiers of global supply chains.

Multinational corporations, investors, development finance corporations and others must transcend what has too often hitherto been weak and shallow ESG frameworks and make decisions based on real data, informed directly by those whose lives are most affected.

Kate Roberts
Founder & CEO, The Body Agency

The solution is men. We must reflect on our 8 billion population and consider ways to sustain this growth. When you invest in a woman, she can go to school, get a job, feed and empower her family and break the cycle of extreme poverty. Giving girls and women access to reproductive health products and services and education is key.

Saying this, educating men and boys on how a woman’s body works are also important and rarely discussed. If they understand that by giving their daughters access to menstrual products, we can keep them in school. Giving their partner access and choice of family planning methods is critical; often, the barrier is the men in the family.

Carlo Perez-Arizti
Partner, Baker McKenzie

Leaders can help influence their communities, the private sector and government representatives to drive this issue and incorporate diversity, inclusion and equity in all research fields. This understanding can drive policy creation to tackle global health, education and technology inequalities.

Global institutions like the World Economic Forum, UNESCO and numerous NGOs are trying to fight a growing problem and I believe the three most important changes that can help turn this problem around are: (i) increasing capabilities of educators and trainers; (ii) talking issues of technology access together with effective use and engagement in hand with technology creators; and (iii) creation of local content and buy-in.

Sonia Medina
Executive Director Climate Change, The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation

Urgent, overlapping crises pose a constant threat to children across the world, exacerbating inequalities. The climate crisis, for instance, is interconnected with food shortages through droughts, floods and soil erosion. Ensuring equal access to opportunities for all means we can’t address issues in siloes or treat only the symptoms. World leaders must take an interconnected approach.

Any food crisis response should also improve climate resilience and nutrition for the most vulnerable – locally-led, regenerative agriculture can address both. The climate crisis, similarly, requires a just transition to clean economies, where workers are retrained and up-skilled – to ensure no one is left behind.

Christian Kroll
Professor of Sustainability, IU International University of Applied Sciences

The principle of “no one left behind” guided the heads of state and governments when they agreed upon the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as the global framework to be achieved by 2030. For the second year in a row, however, the world is no longer making progress on the SDGs (see figure). Current multiple crises – climate, conflict and COVID-19 – and their often bemoaned interrelatedness make matters worse but therein also lies an overlooked opportunity to tackle them with synergetic approaches. The SDGs provide this kind of approach for business and policy.

Saad Hayat Tamman
Member Strategic Reforms and Implementation Unit, Office of the Prime Minister of Pakistan

As we, the people, drive economic growth and generate wealth, let us not forget that we do so with our collective will to make lives better and more meaningful. However, creating and sustaining equitable opportunity for 8 billion citizens now mandates greater demand for a shared realization to pull up those left behind, especially the low-income countries. With the global population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2051 and growth pressures leading to increased distortions in global socio-economic and political balance, the leaders of today and tomorrow must put out a serious call to action to bridge differences and grow inclusively.

*Lead, Young Global Leader Alumni Community, World Economic Forum and Early Careers Programme – Digital Community Engagement, Foundations, World Economic Forum
**first published in: www.weforum.org


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