When the Millennium Development Goals reached their formal conclusion in 2015, there was a full review of the goals and whether or not they were achieved. Goal 1.A was one of the success stories. Not only did the world halve the number of people living on less $1.25 a day, it did so five years ahead of the deadline. That’s great of course, but it doesn’t mean the end of poverty.
If I was living on £1 a day, and my circumstances improved ever so slightly and I got an extra 10p a day, I wouldn’t consider my problems solved. I’d have a few things to say to anyone suggesting I had been ‘lifted out of poverty’.
There are still 800 million people living on less than $1.25 a day, which is appalling. But that’s an extremely low and mostly arbitrary line. Move the benchmark to a more realistic measure of poverty, and it gets worse – at $2.5o a day we’re talking about 2.7 billion people. Add a dollar more and we’re approaching half the world’s population.
In other words, half the world still lives in extreme poverty. That’s easy to forget if we just focus on the absolute poorest. We have a long way to go.
Here’s a graph from the book Reducing Global Poverty that shows the poverty headcount at several different levels, and projects the change in the decades to come. In the year 2040, half of the world is likely to be taking home less than $10 a day.
Of course, we want everyone to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling life, to reach their full potential and get an honest day’s wages. But when you consider how many people there are to raise up to anything like the Western standard of living, the environmental challenge should be obvious. Delivering that level of wealth to one billion people has brought side effects such as climate change and the 6th global extinction event. It can’t be universalized.
And that begs a question: are we content with a two tier world, or are we prepared to lower our own ecological impact to make room for others?