Year in Review: 2015 in 12 charts

By Donna Barne and Tariq Khokhar

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Now that we’ve reached the end of 2015, it’s clear this was a year of major milestones, emerging trends, and new beginnings. Among other things, 2015 marked a historic drop in poverty, a major climate change agreement, and record low child and maternal mortality rates. Take a look at what the data show.

1. The Global Poverty Rate Fell below 10%

The share of the world’s population living in extreme poverty is projected to hit a historic low of 9.6% of in 2015 — falling from 37.1% in 1990. New estimates show 702 million people living below the updated global poverty line of $1.90 per day, with the majority of them in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The milestone was hailed as the “best news in the world today” by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim, and marks real progress on the road to ending extreme poverty by 2030.

Source: World Bank Global Monitoring Report

2. The World Reached an Accord on Climate Change

Representatives of 195 nations signed on to the landmark Paris climate agreement on Dec. 12, 2015. Each country pledged to lower greenhouse gas emissions in what could mark a turning point in the global effort to slow climate change. The deal recognized the role of incentives in reducing emissions, including carbon pricing. Currently, about 40 countries and 23 cities, states, and regions are using a carbon price — their outputs represent only 12% of annual greenhouse-gas emissions. As part of the Paris deal, more than 90 developed and developing countries have included carbon-pricing schemes among the actions they intend to take.

Climate change could have a significant impact on poverty levels. The World Bank Group is working with 130 countries to help implement “climate-smart” development and will increase investments in climate finance to as much as $29 billion a year by 2020 — a one-third increase over current levels.

Source: World Bank

3. A Record Number of People Were Forcibly Displaced

The number of forcibly displaced people now stands at more than 60 million — the highest number since the Second World War. More than half of the some 20 million refugees worldwide come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia, and the majority find refuge in countries close to their own. The World Bank Group, United Nations, and Islamic Development Bank announced in October they would tackle the worsening refugee crisis in the Middle East and North Africa by issuing new bonds to raise billions of dollars to help displaced people and support reconstruction of the war-torn region. This month, the Global Program on Forced Displacement launched a call for ideas to improve development response for refugees and internally displaced persons.

Source: UN High Commissioner on Refugees, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre

4. The SDGs Set Ambitious Targets for 2030

In September, the world’s countries came together to affirm the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — a set of 17 goals for the world. Their broad aims are to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and to address climate change. The goals are associated with a number of new targets and indicators. A World Bank study earlier this year found that many countries in the world lack the data to reliably estimate trends in poverty, and the institution has recently committed to filling these data gaps in the world’s poorest countries. This year also saw the launch of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, which aims to bring together a diverse group of individuals and institutions to make better use of data and technology to both monitor and achieve the SDGs.

5. Finance for Development Needs to Move from Billions to Trillions

The levels of Official Development Assistance (ODA) or “foreign aid” to developing countries are already dwarfed by private resource flows (such as remittances) and commercial foreign investment. The ambitious new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) require equal ambition in using the “billions” in ODA and in available development resources to attract, leverage, and mobilize “trillions” in investments of all kinds. Additional funds are expected to come from two main sources: public domestic resources (such as tax revenues), where the most substantial development spending happens, and commercial finance and investment, the largest potential source of additional funding.

Source: Development Initiatives

6. Commodity Prices Plummeted

The decline in commodity prices that began with metals and agriculture four years ago — joined by crude oil in mid-2014 — continued in 2015. According to the Commodity Markets Outlook, energy, metals, and agricultural prices were down this year, in part due to increasing supplies, bumper harvests, weak demand and a stronger U.S. dollar. This end of the “commodity super-cycle” will see exporters in the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, and Europe adjusting to a new normal, while importers like India benefit from reduced costs.

Source: World Bank Commodity Markets Outlook

7. Ebola Left a Lingering Legacy

A World Bank report estimated that the loss of health workers to Ebola will likely affect non-Ebola mortality even after the countries are declared Ebola-free. For example, maternal mortality could increase by 38% in Guinea, 74% in Sierra Leone, and 111% in Liberia — rates last seen in these countries 15 to 20 years ago. The report found that Ebola has weakened already very fragile health systems in these countries, and as of May 2015, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea had lost 8.07%, 6.85% and 1.45% of their entire country’s health workers — rates far higher than deaths among their general populations.

Source: World Bank

8. More than 60% of the World’s Economies Improved Business Rules

The 2016 Edition of Doing Business identified 231 reforms that enhanced business activity in 122 countries around the world. For example, data for the past 12 years show that in 2003, it took an average of 51 days worldwide to start a new business. This has now been more than halved to 20 days. In addition, the data shows encouraging signs of convergence toward best practices, as lower-income economies have shown more improvement than high-income economies over time. The case of Mozambique illustrates this trend. In 2003, it took an entrepreneur 168 days to start a business, but now it only takes 19 days. You can explore the data further in this interactive visualization.

Source: Doing Business

9. Changing Demographics Are Shaping Our Future

While the global working age population peaked at 66% in 2012, parts of Africa and Asia are seeing a surge in their working age populations, and countries in these regions have an opportunity for greater prosperity and higher living standards. According to the 2015 Global Monitoring Report, Sub-Saharan Africa will account for more than half of the world’s working-age population growth through 2050. The world’s population is set to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, and almost half the population growth will occur in just nine countries.

Source: Global Monitoring Report

10. Maternal and Child Mortality Rates Hit Record Lows

Between 1990 and 2015, the under-5 and maternal mortality rates fell 53% and 44% respectively. This means the number of children dying before age 5 has fallen dramatically — from 12.7 million in 1990 to 5.9 million in 2015. Millions have survived because of the use of such evidence-based interventions against the leading infectious diseases as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, rehydration treatment for diarrhea, nutritional supplements, and therapeutic foods. However, in spite of this progress, an estimated 16,000 children under 5 still die each day and, nearly half of these deaths are attributable to undernutrition.

Source: World Development Indicators

11. The Bottom 40% Are Doing Better

Rising incomes over the past decade have helped the bottom 40% of the population in many countries. Considering five-year periods starting about 2007 and ending around 2012, incomes of the bottom 40% grew in 65 of the 94 countries with adequate and comparable data. Among them, 47 countries registered a “shared prosperity premium,” with the incomes of the bottom 40% growing faster than the incomes of the average population, thus reducing income inequality between these groups.

Source: Global Monitoring Report

12. Legal Restrictions Affect Working Women

The 2016 Women, Business and the Law report finds 155 out of 173 economies have at least one law impeding women’s economic opportunities. In 100 economies, women face gender-based job restrictions. In these economies, women are restricted from pursuing the same economic activities as men and in some cases are prohibited from holding particular jobs, particularly in highly paid industries. The report finds that restrictions on women’s work lower their earning potential relative to men.

Source: Women, Business and the Law

Read more World Bank blogs. See our entire Year in Review package.