Global poverty rates have been falling at an unprecedented pace over the past two decades (see Figure 1), boosting global commitment to eradicating poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030. The first of 17 UN sustainable developments goals, SDG 1, is articulated in seven targets (see box), accompanied by statistical indicators to measure its implementation. However, besides being uneven and piecemeal, progress is slowing down.
Undeniably, extreme poverty, defined in monetary terms as involving an income of less than US$1.9 (updated from US$1.25 PPP (purchasing power parity rate) in October 2015), has dropped from 36 % (2 billion people) in 1990 to 10 % (736 million people) in 2015. In this latter year, 1.9 billion people – 26 % of the world’s population – survived on less than US$3.20 a day and almost 50 % lived on less than US$5.5 (the international poverty line corresponding to lower- and upper-middle-income countries). This means that almost half of the world’s population – or even over three quarters of it, if multidimensional poverty (which includes criteria related to health, education and access to basic utilities) is considered – suffers from deprivation that affects its basic needs and human dignity. It is estimated that, without an important policy shift, roughly 470 million (about 6 %) people worldwide will remain in extreme poverty in 2030, making the achievement of SDG 1 a major global challenge. Furthermore, growing inequalities, both within countries and regions, overshadow the prospects of global development and put social cohesion and economic stability at risk. Today, the world’s 26 richest people own as much as the world’s 3.8 billion poorest people, and this gap in wealth is widening. Regional contrasts are also sharp. While rising income in China and other Asian countries has contributed to decisive cuts in poverty rates throughout the region (which are now under 3 %), extreme poverty has become an increasingly African problem. With a poverty rate above 40 %, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than half of the world’s poor in 2015 – and unlike in other regions, the total number of poor people there has been increasing, also due to a population boom, which has reinforced the continent’s vulnerability to the impact of climate change and risk of political violence. Despite some optimistic signs of a trend reversal in 2019, 90 % of extreme poverty is expected to be concentrated in the region by 2030, making Africa the last frontier of global efforts to end poverty.
The EU’s long-standing commitment to poverty eradication as a central goal of its development policy, its strong pledge towards Agenda 2030 implementation, reiterated by the Council in July 2019, and its reinforced focus on Africa, expressed in particular through the 2018 Africa-Europe Alliance for Sustainable Investment and Jobs and the new strategic agenda 2019-2024, constitute the foundation for its efforts to tackle global poverty where it is most highly concentrated.