Many countries of the South have demonstrated much success. But even in higher achieving countries, future success is not guaranteed. How can countries in the South continue their pace of progress in human development, and how can the progress be extended to other countries? The Report suggests four important areas to facilitate this: enhancing equity, enabling voice and participation, confronting environmental pressures and managing demographic change. The Report points to the high cost of policy inaction and argues for greater policy ambition.
Greater equity, including between men and women and across groups, is not only valuable in itself, but also essential for promoting human development. One of the most powerful instruments for this purpose is education, which boosts people’s self-confidence and makes it easier for them to find better jobs, engage in public debate and make demands on government for health care, social security and other entitlements.
Education also has striking benefits for health and mortality. Research for the report find that mother’s education is more important to child survival than household income or wealth is and that policy interventions have a greater impact where education outcomes are initially weaker. This has profound policy implications, potentially shifting emphasis from efforts to boost household income to measures to improve girls’ education.
The Report makes a strong case for policy ambition. An accelerated progress scenario suggests that low HDI countries can converge towards the levels of human development achieved by high and very high HDI countries. By 2050, aggregate HDI could rise 52% in Sub-Saharan Africa (from 0.402 to 0.612) and 36% in South Asia (from 0.527 to 0.714). Policy interventions under this scenario will also have a positive impact on the fight against poverty. By contrast, the costs of inaction will be increasingly higher, especially in low HDI countries, which are more vulnerable. For instance, failing to implement ambitious universal education policies will adversely affect many essential pillars of human development for future generations
Unless people can participate meaningfully in the events and processes that shape their lives, national human development paths will be neither desirable nor sustainable. People should be able to influence policymaking and results, and young people in particular should be able to look forward to greater economic opportunities and political participation and accountability.
Dissatisfaction is on the rise in the North and the South as people call for more opportunities to voice their concerns and influence policy, especially on basic social protection. Among the most active protesters are youth, in part a response to job shortages and limited employment opportunities for educated young people. History is replete with popular rebellions against unresponsive governments. This can derail human development as unrest impedes investment and growth and autocratic governments divert resources to maintaining law and order.
It is hard to predict when societies will reach a tipping point. Mass protests, especially by educated people, tend to erupt when bleak prospects for economic opportunities lower the opportunity cost of engaging in political activity. These “effort-intensive forms of political participation” are then easily coordinated through new forms of mass communication.
While environmental threats such as climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and natural disasters affect everyone, they hurt poor countries and poor communities most. Climate change is already exacerbating chronic environmental threats, and ecosystem losses are constraining livelihood opportunities, especially for poor people.
Although low HDI countries contribute the least to global climate change, they are likely to experience the greatest loss in annual rainfall and the sharpest increases in its variability, with dire implications for agricultural production and livelihoods. The magnitude of such losses highlights the urgency of adopting coping measures to increase people’s resilience to climate change.
The cost of inaction will likely be high. The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be. To ensure sustainable economies and societies, new policies and structural changes are needed that align human development and climate change goals in low-emission, climate-resilient strategies and innovative public-private financing mechanisms.
Between 1970 and 2011, world population swelled from 3.6 billion to 7 billion. As that population becomes more educated, its growth rate will decrease. Development prospects are influenced by the age structure of the population, as well as its size. An increasingly critical concern is the dependency ratio—that is, the number of younger and older people divided by the working-age population ages 15–64.
Some poorer countries will benefit from a “demographic dividend” as the share of the population in the workforce rises, but only if there is strong policy action. Girls’ education, for instance, is a critical vehicle of a possible demographic dividend. Educated women tend to have fewer, healthier and better educated children; in many countries educated women also enjoy higher salaries than uneducated workers.
The richer regions of the South, by contrast, will confront a very different problem, as their population age, reducing the share of the working- age population. The rate of population ageing matters because developing countries will struggle to meet the needs of an older population if they are still poor. Many developing countries now have only a short window of opportunity to reap the full benefits of the demographic dividend.
Demographic trends are not deterministic, however. They can be altered, at least indirectly, by education policies. The Report presents two scenarios for 2010–2050: the base case scenario, in which enrolment ratios remain constant at each level of education, and a fast track scenario, in which the countries with the lowest initial education levels embrace ambitious education targets. The decline in the dependency ratio for low HDI countries under the fast track scenario is more than twice that under the base case scenario. Ambitious education policies can enable medium and high HDI countries to curb projected increases in their dependency ratios, in order to make their demographic transition towards an ageing population less difficult.
Addressing these demographic challenges will require raising educational attainment levels while expanding productive employment opportunities—by reducing unemployment, promoting labour productivity and increasing labour force participation, particularly among women and older workers.