Eradicating extreme poverty by 2050?

Most people who live in extreme poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Most people who live in extreme poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa. Image: Unsplash/anniespratt

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The proportion of people in extreme poverty worldwide could fall below 2% in 2050 under the base forecast from the Center for Global Development.
  • Eradicating extreme poverty for all by 2030 is the first goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
  • Anyone living on less than $2.15 a day is in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

How do you define and measure poverty and extreme poverty? Or, put another way, what standards are necessary for a basic living?

The answer probably varies from country to country and it can be difficult to generalize across regions and continents. Drawing a line can be helpful for policymakers, as it gives them a barometer to work towards, as well as a basis against which to proclaim success, even if it’s not particularly ambitious for their country.

Nevertheless, some form of measurement is needed to track broad global progress.

And that’s important because eradicating poverty is the headline target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with Goal 1 being “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”.

 COVID-19 and the challenge of ending extreme poverty.
COVID-19 and the challenge of ending extreme poverty. Image: United Nations

Making sure everyone has enough money to meet their basic needs including food, clothing and shelter, is a key metric of how we’re doing as a society and is a core objective for politicians and policymakers all over the world. The World Economic Forum’s work underpins the United Nations SDGs, as set out on its Strategic Intelligence platform.

Anyone living on less than $2.15 a day is in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

About 648 million people globally were in this situation in 2019, it says. And while global poverty rates increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the general trend is for them to be falling.

While the Sustainable Development Goal committing the world to end extreme poverty by 2030 probably won’t be met, a new study from the Center for Global Development (CGD) forecasts that the proportion of people in extreme poverty worldwide will fall below 2% in 2050, from around 8% now.

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Charles Kenny, Senior Fellow, Center for Global Development, and Zack Gehan, a research assistant, forecasted a range of estimates for the state of global poverty in 2050, as part of a wider set of scenarios for the global economy in 2050.

“We use our own economic growth forecasts and the Stata functions embedded in the World Bank’s Poverty and Inequality Platform to predict 2050 poverty at two different lines, assuming within-country inequality remains the same over that time and consumption growth equals our predictions for GDP per capita growth,” they wrote in a blog post.

Three scenarios where the proportion of people in extreme poverty fall.
Three scenarios where the proportion of people in extreme poverty fall. Image: Center for Global Development

Several factors have compounded to make the economic outlook cloudier and less certain, hitting the poorest in society hard, including the energy crisis and the cost of living crisis. While the World Economic Forum’s Chief Economists Outlook highlighted the intensifying human impact of the cost of living crisis, which is worsening poverty, it also said the forces at work should peak this year. And the respondents to the survey appeared to largely agree, with a majority (68%) saying the crisis will be less severe by the end of 2023.

Poverty is not shared evenly across continents.

Most people who live in extreme poverty are in Sub-Saharan Africa. In 1990, 13% of people were living in extreme poverty lived in the region; in 2022, an estimated 62% of people living in extreme poverty lived in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to Development Initiatives.

The proportion of people in extreme poverty will fall to 7% from 29% across the continent of Africa, the CGD study shows. Under the optimistic forecast for Africa – with a higher growth rate between now and 2050 – extreme poverty falls below 2%.

The CGD work also looked at the proportion of people living on $10 a day.

Graph showing the global $10 poverty to 2020. extreme poverty
People living on less than $10 a day. Image: Center for Global Development

In 2019, about 57% of the world lived on less than $10/day, including nearly nine out of 10 people in Africa and India.

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The positive scenario showed this dropping to one in five in the world, one in five people in India and less than one-half of Africa’s population, the study showed.

While the overall message of the CGD report shows poverty levels are moving in the right direction, there is no space for complacency, with recent crises threatening to push the world off track from its goals.

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