WHAT TOP THINKERS THINK ABOUT DEVELOPMENT

Ryszard Kapuscinski’s works addressed leading development issues of the 1970s, 1980s, and (arguably to a lesser extent) the 1990s.  Have the world’s development challenges changed since then? What was the biggest challenge then, and what is it now?

I would say that, back to the 1970s and 1980s, global extreme poverty was the main development challenge. Since then, considerable progress has been achieved: 40 % of the world population was living in “extreme poverty” in 1981; less than 10% in 2017.  Amazing! Yet, this raises three major issues. 1) There are still huge pockets of poverty: 40% of the sub-Saharan African population in a region where population will increase by 1 billion people in the next 20 to 25 years. It  is thus more geographically concentrated but there is still an extreme poverty challenge. 2) Passing the extreme poverty line is not getting out of poverty. The inequality in standards of living between rich and emergent or developing countries is diminishing thanks in large part to the performance of China. Yet global inequality remains abnormally high. Beyond poverty eradication, strictly speaking, inequality must still be seriously be scaled down.  3) However, under current conditions, the latter requires growth to take place in the developing world at a pace that would make world growth unsustainable from an ecological point of view.

In short: the challenge is making extreme poverty eradication, inequality reduction and environmental sustainability mutually consistent.

Some people dismiss sustainable development as an aspirational vision, others an unattainable fantasy, and still others absolutely necessary to our future. In this age where few seem interested in working for the collective good of all, what’s your argument to convince others that it is necessary to change the way we develop?

Sustainable (global) development is the only way of making extreme poverty eradication and global inequality reduction consistent with the environmental constraint. But, the main burden of the ecological adjustment should not be put on the poorest or the developing world in general. This would be fine if green energy were available soon, but even if this is not the case, the developing world must be allowed to catch-up substantially over advanced countries even with not-so-clean technology. Priorities should thus be the development of decarbonated energy  – including nuclear (!?) – at global level and adjustment in the development strategy of today’s rich countries.

What is the biggest challenge/hindrance to successful development?

Clearly, the preceding challenges will raise domestic and international distribution conflicts if they have to be overcome. Rich countries will not want to bear more than their share of the adjustment burden and, within rich countries,  people at the bottom of the income scale will reject any kind of restriction on the growth of their living standard. The challenge is thus to generate the domestic and global institutions that will allow to resolve those conflicts.

What area of development or Global Goal do you think sustainable development hinges on? Which one is at the core of all the others?

Physical environment and the availability of natural resources clearly are the main long-run binding constraints on global development. But sustainability must also be understood in a social sense.  An inegalitarian world is socially unsustainable, as would be green development if the burden were too heavy on the poor.  Hence the inherent consistency development challenge between social and environmental constraints.

What’s the most striking thing you have personally witnessed in relation to development? i.e. a challenge, opportunity or just personal observation about a human story.

The progress in the  empowerment of poor people on their destiny thanks to minimal economic progress in rural areas of South-Asia or Africa.

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