Facing a divided population

The world’s population will reach 8 billion by mid-November, reflecting advances in science and improvements in nutrition, public health and sanitation. But as our human family grows, it also becomes more divided.

Billions of people are struggling; hundreds of millions of people face hunger and even starvation. Record numbers of people are on the move in search of opportunity and relief from debt and hardship, wars and climate disasters.

Unless we bridge the gaping chasm between the world’s haves and have-nots, we are preparing for a world of 8 billion people filled with tension and mistrust, crisis and conflict.

A handful of billionaires control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world. The richest 1% earn a fifth of the world’s income, while people in the richest countries can expect to live up to 30 years longer than those in the poorest countries. As the world has become wealthier and healthier in recent decades, these inequalities have also widened.

In addition to these long-term trends, the accelerating climate crisis and the uneven recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic are fueling inequality. We are heading for climate catastrophe, as emissions and temperatures continue to rise. Floods, storms and droughts are devastating countries that have contributed almost nothing to global warming.

The war in Ukraine adds to ongoing food, fuel and financial crises, hitting developing economies the hardest. These inequalities weigh most heavily on women and girls, as well as on marginalized groups who already suffer from discrimination.

Many countries in the South are facing huge debts, increasing poverty and hunger and the growing impacts of the climate crisis. They are unlikely to invest in a sustainable recovery from the pandemic, the transition to renewable energy or education and training in the digital age.

Toxic divisions and lack of trust lead to delays and stalemates on a host of issues, from nuclear disarmament to terrorism to global health. We need to curb these harmful trends, repair relationships and find common solutions to our common challenges.

The first step is to recognize that this rampant inequality is a choice, and that developed countries have a responsibility to reverse it – starting this month at the UN climate conference in Egypt and the G20 summit. in Bali. I hope COP27 will see a historic climate solidarity pact in which developed and emerging economies will unite around a common strategy and combine their capabilities and resources for the benefit of humanity. Wealthier countries must provide major emerging economies with financial and technical support to move away from fossil fuels. This is our only hope of achieving our climate goals.

I also urge COP27 leaders to agree on a roadmap and institutional framework to compensate countries in the Global South for climate-related loss and damage that is already causing enormous suffering.

The G20 summit will be an opportunity to address the plight of developing countries. I urged G20 economies to adopt a stimulus package that will provide Southern governments with investment and liquidity, and address debt relief and restructuring.

As we push for action on these medium-term measures, we are working with all stakeholders to alleviate the global food crisis. The Black Sea Grain Initiative is an essential part of these efforts. It has helped stabilize markets and lower food prices.

We are also working to ensure that Russian fertilizers can flow into world markets, which have been severely disrupted by the war. Fertilizer prices are up to three times higher than before the pandemic. Rice, the most consumed staple food in the world, is the crop that will suffer the most.

Removing the remaining barriers to Russian fertilizer exports is an essential step towards global food security.

But among all these serious challenges, there is good news. Our world of eight billion people could offer enormous opportunities to some of the poorest countries, where population growth is the highest.

Relatively small investments in health care, education, gender equality and sustainable economic development could create a virtuous circle of development and growth, transforming economies and lives.

Within decades, today’s poorest countries could become the engines of sustainable, green growth and prosperity across entire regions.

Edward N. Arrington