Africa is the least urbanised continent in the world but an urban transition is very much underway. This is particularly visible in West Africa where the number of urban agglomerations increased from 152 in 1950 to almost 2,000 in 2010. Between 2000 and 2010 alone, the urban population grew by over 40 million people, making towns and cities home to 41% of the region’s total population.

© Joe Penney / Reuters

We don’t know the name, or the place and exact date of birth, of the baby who changed world history. My guess is that she was born somewhere in Africa in 2007. Not that she cared as she lay there all wrinkled and raging at the disagreeable turn her life had just taken, but it was thanks to her that for the first time ever, the world had more urban dwellers than country folk.

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Africa’s urban population growth rate was the world’s fastest at 4% between 1960 and 2010, and it is clear that urbanisation across its 54 countries will continue to pose policy challenge in the years ahead. But unlike in many other regions of the world, people quitting the countryside to settle in cities will not be the main driver of that growth.

While many thatch roofs were replaced by more modern slate roofs as part of the 1970s New Village Movement (Saemaul Undong), some better specimens were preserved, such as in Yangdong village, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. ©Robert Harding/Alamy Stock Photo

Cities are in fashion nowadays among policy-makers as countries everywhere look to urban areas as hubs for innovation and growth. But what about the countryside? Economic development led by continuous rural-to-urban migration and rising living standards and opportunities in the urban milieu, not to mention industrialisation, contributes to widening disparities between rural and urban areas. Korea’s development experience shows that socially-inclusive and sustainable growth requires developing rural areas as an integral part of successful economic development. Indeed, Korea’s rapid rise from a mainly agricultural and food-aid recipient nation to one of the fastest-growing, developed OECD economies was made possible by a structural transformation that involved urban and rural areas alike.

©Charlotte Moreau

With the Sustainable Development Goals, the world has set itself ambitious targets for the next 15 years. But ambition will also be essential if we are to collect and process the data needed for monitoring the goals. Thanks to more than half a century of experience, the OECD is well-placed to support this global project.

This year London’s population overtook its historical high of 8.6 million reached at the outset of the Second World War, bucking the trend of many European and North American cities, which have experienced only slight, or even negative, growth. Compared to other global cities, London is inching forward, with only nine new residents per hour, compared to double that number in São Paulo and over 70 in Delhi, Kinshasa and Dhaka. Nonetheless, London will accommodate a million more people by 2030.

African nations are exploring how best to harness the potential of cities as agents of change to achieve progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the African Union’s Agenda 2063. The current African Economic Outlook (AEO), jointly produced by the African Development Bank, the OECD Development Centre and the United Nations Development Programme, warns that policy makers and donors too often are blind to the territorial realities of the economies they are trying to help develop. Economies are seen as sectors rather than places. And thus sectoral lenses tend to limit policy action to a few specific tools, regardless of the complexity of problems that demand a place-based, multi-sectoral and participatory approach.

Sea change for the Moroccan port of Tangier ©Alamy

Tangier in 2000 was a sleepy coastal city in the north of Morocco. Fifteen years later, Tangier’s population has exploded three-fold into a vibrant metropolitan area of 1.5 million inhabitants. The city’s free-zones have attracted new industries, such as automobile producers. A new business district called Tangier City Center and new satellite cities arise around Tangier’s old town, providing local inhabitants with modern infrastructure and amenities that have been sorely lacking. A new high-speed train is being built to connect people with the state-of-the-art Ibn Batouta International Airport.

2015 has been a challenging year for Africa. Average growth of African economies weakened in 2015 to 3.6%, down from an average annual 5% enjoyed since 2000.

On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the United Nation’s General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This comprehensive set of goals aims to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all” as part of a new development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved by 2030, and by including education, health, poverty, climate change and the gender divide on the list of 17 goals, the SDGs place in stark light some of the seemingly intractable challenges facing the world.

©Sodexo

Not so long ago, “globalisation” was a favourite paradigm in international business. It was a trend that began in the late 1970s and accelerated in the 1980s, when corporate takeovers were the order of the day and multinational companies fixated on maximising short-term profits and boosting share prices. One approach was “global sourcing”, also called outsourcing or offshoring. The strategy typically involved moving the company’s operations to wherever labour was cheapest. First the production work went abroad, and then companies were offloading all but their most essential core activities.

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The Paris Agreement on climate change signals the end of business as usual for energy industries. For the first time in history more than 150 developed and developing countries have promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But how binding are these agreements? And do they provide impetus for local action in Africa?

Creeping protectionism is alive and well. Last year’s monitoring report on trade for the G20 reminded us that of the nearly 1,500 trade-restrictive measures imposed by G20 countries since 2008, fewer than 400 have been removed. The stock of these barriers continues to grow, despite a pledge by the G20 to reduce protectionism. Not surprisingly, given this context, a recent World Trade Organisation (WTO) report concludes that the risks to the international trading system and to trade flows more generally “are tilted to the downside.”

In Hungary, young people want to have bigger families, but concerns over issues like housing and striking a work-life balance appear to be obstacles. In response, the government has introduced a range of family-friendly policies–a vital step in helping families fulfil their dreams and in meeting the challenge of a rapidly ageing population.

Productivity growth has slowed since the crisis and inequality of income and opportunity has been getting worse. Could they be impacting each other?

Women in developing countries are 21% less likely to own a mobile phone than men ©Reuters/Thomas Mukoya

Women are consumers, business owners, farmers, employees and entrepreneurs. They are dependent on market systems and need access to finance to manage their livelihoods.

©Photosensitive/Reuters

The UN Sustainable Development Goals could be a real game changer for gender issues, with wins in fraught areas such as reproductive rights. But there will be challenges, and opposing voices, to contend with in the years ahead.

©AFP/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/NURPHOTO

The UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris in November-December is the final crucial step in a year which has set forth several global milestones towards shaping a better common future. Tackling climate change is a determining factor in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed in New York in September 2015 in particular; an agreement in Paris would not only bolster all the efforts that led to the historic SDGs, but lift the hopes of everyone on the planet, especially the most vulnerable. 

©REUTERS/Joe Penney

There are many countries emerging from conflict. Why care about Mali?

Malala Yousafzai at the UN summit ©Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America/AFP

The adoption of the post-2015 Agenda for Development at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in New York 25-27 September will be an important driver of the OECD’s work for the next decade and beyond. 

Geothermal plant in Indonesia, which holds considerable geothermal energy potential thanks to its hundreds of active and extinct volcanoes ©Reuters/Beawiharta Beawiharta

Climate change is the pre-eminent challenge of our time. We need financing to mitigate and adapt to its impacts.  

World leaders have just endorsed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) comprising some 169 targets. To have a chance of reaching them, we must also meet another goal: improving our data. 

Charlotte Moreau/OECD Observer

“To eradicate poverty we need to direct more development assistance and concessional loans to the poorest nations and mobilise much more private finances for development.” Official development assistance (ODA) reached an all-time high of $135.2 billion in 2014. Even so, not all developing countries rely on ODA to the same extent, and to some of them it may seem like a drop in the bucket compared to other international financial flows. However, for the least developed countries, such assistance represents over 70% of available external finance and more than one-third of their total public revenue and expenditure. This highlights the importance of the target set by the United Nations in 1970: for donors to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income as ODA.

“Like eating soup with a knife”: Peter O Toole (right) portrays TE Lawrence, with Omar Sharif, in the 1962 film, “Lawrence of Arabia” ©Kobal/The Picture Desk/AFP

Insurgency is a cause of underdevelopment in large areas of West Africa, holding back the task of achieving social and economic progress. 

As co-chairs of the Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation, my Mexican and Malawian colleagues and I have a huge task–and a huge opportunity–ahead. A new, truly universal development agenda is taking shape and it holds out to all people on this planet the promise of a more equal and sustainable world, with less conflict and less poverty.

OECD

Since democracy was restored in 1999, Nigeria has engaged in ambitious reforms towards greater market liberalisation and economic openness. By far the most populous country of the continent–with more than 170 million people Nigeria is home to 18% of Africa’s population–it now claims to be the largest
economy in Africa, with an estimated nominal GDP of US$510 billion. Its GDP growth has never been below 5% since 2003, and since 2009, it has become the preferred destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa, ahead of South Africa.

Click to enlarge. By StiK, especially for the OECD Observer.

©Issei Kato/REUTERS

The world is no longer divided between rich and well-educated countries and poor and badly educated ones.

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  • Africa's cities at the forefront of progress: Africa is urbanising at a historically rapid pace coupled with an unprecedented demographic boom. By 2050, about 56% of Africans are expected to live in cities. This poses major policy challenges, but make no mistake: Africa’s cities and towns are engines of progress that, if harnessed correctly, can fuel the entire continent’s sustainable development.
  • “Nizip” refugee camp visit
    July 2016: OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría visits the “Nizip” refugee camp, situated between Gaziantep and the Turkish-Syrian border, accompanied by Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Şimşek. The camp accommodates a small number of the 2.75 million Syrians currently registered in Turkey, mostly outside the camps. In his tour of the camp, Mr Gurría visits a school, speaks with refugees and gives a short interview.
  • OECD Observer i-Sheet Series: OECD Observer i-Sheets are smart contents pages on major issues and events. Use them to find current or recent articles, video, books and working papers. To browse on paper and read on line, or simply download.
  • Queen Maxima of the Netherlands gives a speech next to Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (not pictured) during the International Forum of Financial Inclusion at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico June 21, 2016.
  • How sustainable is the ocean as a source of economic development? The Ocean Economy in 2030 examines the risks and uncertainties surrounding the future development of ocean industries, the innovations required in science and technology to support their progress, their potential contribution to green growth and some of the implications for ocean management.
  • OECD Environment Director Simon Upton presented a talk at Imperial College London on 21 April 2016. With the world awash in surplus oil and prices languishing around US$40 per barrel, how can governments step up efforts to transform the world’s energy systems in line with the Paris Agreement?
  • Happy 10th birthday to Twitter. This 2008 OECD Observer interview with Henry Copeland said you’d do well.
  • The OECD Gender Initiative examines existing barriers to gender equality in education, employment, and entrepreneurship. The gender portal monitors the progress made by governments to promote gender equality in both OECD and non-OECD countries and provides good practices based on analytical tools and reliable data.
  • Once migrants reach Europe, countries face integration challenge: OECD's Thomas Liebig speaks to NPR's Audie Cornish.

  • Message from the International Space Station to COP21

  • The carbon clock is ticking: OECD’s Gurría on CNBC

  • If we want to reach zero net emissions by the end of the century, we must align our policies for a low-carbon economy, put a price on carbon everywhere, spend less subsidising fossil fuels and invest more in clean energy. OECD at #COP21 – OECD statement for #COP21
  • They are green and local --It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs in Kenya with big dreams of sustainable energy and the drive to see their innovative technologies throughout Africa. blogs.worldbank.org
  • Pole to Paris Project
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • How can cities fight climate change?
    Discover projects in Denmark, Canada, Australia, Japan and Mexico.
  • Climate: What's changed, what hasn't, what we can do about it.
    Lecture by OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, hosted by the London School of Economics and Aviva Investors in association with ClimateWise, London, UK, 3 July 2015.
  • Is technological progress slowing down? Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on www.ft.com.
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at www.oecd.org/careers .

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