The World Bank is calling for governments to pursue a more appropriate mix of growth and environmental policies. The Bank released its annual development report the week before the United Nations summit on sustainable economic development in Johannesburg.
The Bank's chief environmental official, Ian Johnson, says immense progress has been made in the past 25 years in reducing poverty and creating jobs in poor countries. Income levels are higher, the percentage of the population that is poor has decreased.
With luck and sensible policies, says Mr. Johnson, during the next 50 years global output could quadruple and the income gap between rich and poor narrowed. "In the next 50 years, in addition to a world which is four times bigger in terms of GDP, we will add two to three billion people, extra mouths to feed, extra jobs to be found, extra places to live," said Mr. Johnson. "We will become an urban planet whereas today we are largely a rural planet. We will probably need to double food production during that period. And energy needs will probably increase by three to sixfold."
Mr. Johnson and Zmarak Shalizi, the principal author of the report, say poverty can only be alleviated through economic growth. Mr. Shalizi says the progress of recent years has been accompanied by severe environmental damage.
"Air pollution in many developing country cities is much higher than World Health Organization standards," said Mr. Shalizi. "The number of people living in water-stressed areas is growing. The world's fisheries are either fully exploited or at the point of being depleted. And forests are being cut down. And there is a whole litany of these things, many of which have been discussed in the run-up to Joburg," referring to next week's Johannesburg summit on sustainable development.
The development report says 100 percent of the projected population growth during the next five decades will occur in developing countries. There will be explosive growth of cities, with the number of cities with at least 10 million inhabitants more than tripling to 54 by 2050. Most of these will be in developing countries.
The bank says there must be accelerated efforts to build the institutions of civil society and reduce the still widening gap between the rich and poor.
The bank says 20 percent of the world's population controls 80 percent of its wealth. One billion people, one-sixth of the total, continue to get by on incomes of only one dollar per day.