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From population bomb to development opportunity: New perspectives on demographic change

S. Amer Ahmed's picture

A generation ago, the World Development Report 1984 focused on development challenges posed by demographic change, reflecting the world’s concerns about run-away population growth. Global population growth rates had peaked at more than two percent a year in the late 1960s and the incredibly high average fertility rates of that decade – almost six births per woman – provided the momentum to keep population growth rates elevated for several decades (Fig 1). Indeed, the population and development zeitgeist spawned works such as Ehrlich’s 1968 book “Population Bomb,” which painted apocalyptic images of a world struggling to sustain itself under the sheer weight of its people. The policy discussion of the WDR 1984 reflected these concerns, focusing on how to feed the growing populations in the poorest and highest fertility countries, while also presenting a case for policies that would reduce fertility.

Shades of grey in the global green movement

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

Portrait of elderly man in Bhutan"Each new generation is reared by its predecessor; the latter must therefore improve in order to improve its successor. The movement is circular." - Emile Durkheim
How are Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Bill Mckibben, Pope Francis, and Al Gore alike? The answer is very simple: they are part of a 60+ cohort, which includes baby boomers and their predecessors. And they are all very effective and passionate about how to tackle the biggest threat of our times: climate change.
I vividly remember that the first person who drew my attention as a child to the environment was my grandfather who was a small farmer in my native Poland. Around twenty-five years ago, during my first visit to Siberia, tribal seniors raised the issue of the melting of the “eternal ice” as well. Neither my grandfather nor the seniors were highly educated, but they were able to observe the rapid changes in their own environment. Despite this, we did not heed their concerns as they did not possess academic credentials. Now that over five thousand researchers have agreed that climate change is occurring, we are suddenly starting to pay attention.
Older adults constantly address the issues involved in global warming to Millennials, youth or even children, fully aware that their generation’s irresponsible behavior contributed immensely to the current state of the Earth. But why exclude the culprits? What happened to resocialization and second chances? Even James Madison was aware of generational responsibilities when he stated: “Each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”
The baby boomers and the silent generation are reaping the benefits of the “longevity dividend”. Why don’t we start working together towards the survival of our kind not only as preachers, but also in the trenches of the global climate change movement?  Members of the grey generations are often bold, skilled, experienced, financially independent, and in most cases, are very active and sensitive to social inequity. As the old saying goes: the funeral shroud has no pockets. It is in their best interest to be part of this movement.

What does “urban” mean?

Chandan Deuskar's picture
Follow the author on Twitter: @cd_planner

This aerial view of Hanoi, Vietnam, clearly shows areas of decreasing density between the city and the countryside, making it hard to define the limits of the "urban" area.
Anyone reading this blog is likely to have heard the statistic that ‘over half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas’. This has been the standard opening line of reports and presentations about urbanization since this milestone was supposedly reached in 2008. But what does it really mean?

In everyday usage, terms related to human settlements have vague, shifting meanings. What one person might describe as a small ‘city’ might be a ‘town’ or ‘village’ for someone else; one person’s ‘megacity’ might be a cluster of cities from a different perspective. Similarly, we can usually identify areas that are clearly within a city and others that are outside it, but there is usually a peri-urban area of intermediate density that usually lies between the two, making it hard to define a clear city limit. Formal administrative boundaries may have historic or political meaning, but are rarely aligned with the physical or economic extents of the urban area.

What exactly is a city? It depends who you ask

It turns out there is no standard international definition of an ‘urban’ area or ‘urban’ population. Each country has its own definition, and collects data accordingly. The statistic that 50% of the world’s population is urban is arrived at simply by adding up these incomparable, and sometimes conflicting, definitions.

Weekly wire: The global forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

World of NewsThese are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

In international aid, people should be seen as consumers not 'beneficiaries'
The Guardian
A poor widow in rural Bangladesh can choose from many competing mobile phone operators, weighing the best rates and customer service in order to reach her decision. Why should she not also have the right to choose, or at least be informed about, which NGO builds her flood-resistant home and be given the right to seek redress if it is washed away next flood season.  For the billions of the poorest people around the world who rely on philanthropic aid to meet even basic needs, as the saying goes, “beggars can’t be choosers”. But why shouldn’t philanthropic programmes abide by the same consumer rights rules expected of a traditional business selling soap or toothpaste? Both are delivering products or services to people, be they wealthy or impoverished: the only major difference is who is paying for it.

Democracy Does Not Live by Tech Alone
Foreign Policy
Enthusiasm for reforming our democracies has been gaining momentum. From the pages of Foreign Policy to the colorful criticisms of comedian Russell Brand, it is evident that a long-overdue public conversation on this topic is finally getting started.  There is no lack of proposals. For example, in their recent Foreign Policy piece, John Boik and colleagues focus on decentralized, emergent, tech-driven solutions such as participatory budgeting, local currency systems, and open government. They are confident that such innovations have a good chance of “spreading virally” and bringing about major change. Internet-based solutions, in particular, have captured our collective imagination. From Pia Mancini’s blockbuster TED presentation to New Scientist‘s recent coverage of “digital democracy,” we’re eager to believe that smartphone apps and novel online platforms hold the key to reinventing our way of governance. This seems only natural: after all, the same technologies have already radically reconfigured large swaths of our daily lives.

Despite expectations, cities in East Asia are becoming denser

Chandan Deuskar's picture
When we think of urban expansion in the 21st century, we often think of ‘sprawl’, a term that calls to mind low-density, car-oriented suburban growth, perhaps made up of single-family homes. Past studies have suggested that historically, cities around the world are becoming less dense as they grow, which has prompted worries about the environmental impacts of excess land consumption and automobile dependency. A widely cited rule of thumb is that as the population of a city doubles, its built area triples. But our new study on urban expansion in East Asia has yielded some surprising findings that are making us rethink this assumption of declining urban densities everywhere.

The real population boom – the over 60s: great new killer facts and graphics from Age International

Duncan Green's picture

Ageing is one of those development issues that is only going to get bigger.  A new report from Age International pulls together all the killer facts and infographics you should need to be convinced, and lots of eminent talking heads (Margaret Chan, Richard Jolly, Mary Robinson etc) to drive home the message.


Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

So Maybe Money Really Does Buy Happiness?
Inc. Magazine
Emerging Asian nations are finding out what developed ones did years ago: money--and the stuff it buys--brings happiness. Levels of self-reported well-being in fast-growing nations like Indonesia, China and Malaysia now rival those in the U.S., Germany and the United Kingdom, rich nations that have long topped the happiness charts, according to a Pew Research Center global survey released Friday. It says it shows how rises in national income are closely linked to personal satisfaction. The pollsters asked people in 43 countries to place themselves on a "ladder of life," with the top rung representing the best possible life and the bottom the worst. Pew carried out the same survey in 2002 and 2005 in most of those countries, enabling researchers to look at trends over time.

Telling It Straight: How Trustworthy Government Information Promotes Better Media
In new and emerging democracies, in countries coming out of conflict, in societies in transition where for decades information was repressed, being open with the public through the press and disseminating reliable information in a systematized and responsive fashion is a new concept. Yet, just as the media are crucial to informing the public, so too are governments in getting out information that reporters and hence citizens can use.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

The Challenge Of Connecting The Unconnected
Every time we return to or sign up for an Internet service (e.g. Facebook, Google, Gmail, YouTube, etc.), we rely on what UX experts call a “mental model” for navigating through the choices. A mental model is essentially a person’s intuition of how something works based on past knowledge, similar experiences and common sense. So even when something is new, mental models help to make sense of it, utilizing the human brain’s ability to transcode knowledge and recognize patterns. For instance, most of our grandparents can hit the ground running with changing the channel or increasing the volume when handed the remote control for the latest television available in the market today, squarely because of a well-developed mental model for TV remote control units. But our grandparents may not have the same level of success when using Internet services, smartphones or tablets. Under-developed mental models in these domains are their primary obstacles

Beyond Magic Bullets in Governance Reform
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Domestic reformers and external donors have invested enormous energy and resources into improving governance in developing countries since the 1990s. Yet there is still remarkably little understanding of how governance progress actually occurs in these contexts. Reform strategies that work well in some places often prove disappointing elsewhere. A close examination of governance successes in the developing world indicates that effective advocacy must move beyond a search for single-focus “magic bullet” solutions toward an integrated approach that recognizes multiple interrelated drivers of governance change.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Focus on Migration: Rising migration is a myth
Hardly a week goes by without media coverage of the fears, in developed nations, that immigrants from poorer countries are overwhelming them. A recent story in the British newspaper The Telegraph — describing how open borders, the “ravages of globalisation”, and a welfare economy have given rise to social resentment — is just one example. [1] Such narratives tap into the popular myth that globalisation has led to a one-way, free flow of migrants from poorer countries — making migration a political issue almost everywhere in the industrialised world.

Facebook is more important to news distribution than you think, and journalists are freaked out
Facebook’s Liz Heron answered for a litany of perceived sins and slights last week during a conversation with The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal and attendees at the Online News Association conference in Chicago. Journalists are anxious about being left out of the loop about how Facebook works, and they want answers. Does Facebook play favorites in the News Feed Algorithm? Nope, according to Heron, the company’s head of news partnerships. In other words: If you want to be successful on Facebook, don’t get caught up in the nuts and bolts of what it favors or disfavors about posts (and it won’t tell you much about those nuts and bolts anyway, so that works out).

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

How mobile phones can save, not waste, energy
World Economic Forum
The mobile industry is experiencing explosive growth worldwide, fuelled by almost 7 billion subscribers and an ever-growing demand for data traffic. However, the energy efficiency of mobile networks remains extremely low. Both base stations and smartphones regularly waste 70% of the energy consumed as heat. The underlying power architecture used in mobile communications still relies on outdated technology developed during the 1930s. The impact of relying on such outdated technology is huge.

U.N. Predicts New Global Population Boom
MIT Technology Review
A new analysis suggests that the world’s population will keep rising through 2100, and not flatten around 2050 as has been widely assumed. Such an increase would have huge implications, but the prediction’s reliability is debatable, given that it does not take into account future hardships a large population would likely face.  According to the new analysis by researchers at the United Nations and several academic institutions, there is an 80 percent chance that the world’s population, now 7.2 billion, won’t stop at nine billion in 2050, but will instead be between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion by 2100.