Our urbanizing world

Our urbanizing world
August 2014
No. 2014/3
Our urbanizing world
T
he world’s population is increasingly concentrated in
urban settlements, presenting both opportunities for
and challenges to sustainable development. Cities drive
economic and social development as hubs of commerce,
transportation, communication and government. But
rapid, unplanned urban growth can lead to an expansion
of urban slums, exacerbating poverty and inequality,
hampering efforts to expand or improve basic
infrastructure and deliver essential services, and
threatening the environment. By anticipating urban
growth, countries can plan for future change and ensure
that urbanization remains a positive force for sustainable
development
1. From mostly rural to mostly urban
The world has urbanized rapidly since 1950 and
projections indicate that it will continue to urbanize in
the coming decades. In 1950 the world was mostly rural:
more than two-thirds of people lived in rural settlements
and less than one-third in urban settlements. In 2014 just
over half of the global population was urban. This
distribution is expected to shift further towards urban
areas over the next 35 years so that, by 2050, the world’s
population will be one-third rural and two-thirds urban,
roughly the reverse of the situation in the mid-twentieth
century (figure 1).1, 2
Global urbanization has been driven by rapid growth of
the urban population, concurrent with stagnating
growth of the rural population. The global urban
population has increased by a factor of five, from 0.7 billion
in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014. It is expected to increase by
another 60 per cent by 2050, when 6.3 billion people are
projected to live in urban settlements. The global rural
population is ceasing to grow. It is projected to reach a
peak of just under 3.4 billion shortly after 2020 and to
decline thereafter to 3.2 billion in 2050.
A growing number of countries are becoming highly
urbanized, with a majority of their populations
concentrated in urban settlements. In 1950, among 233
countries or areas just 15 per cent had levels of
urbanization greater than 60 per cent and only 6 per cent
were more than 80 per cent urban. Estimates indicate that
around half of all countries or areas in 2014 were more
than 60 per cent urban, and the level of urbanization
exceeded 80 per cent in 25 per cent of countries or areas.
By 2050 nearly 70 per cent of countries or areas in the
world are projected to be more than 60 per cent urban and
38 per cent will be at least 80 per cent urban.
The number of countries that are predominantly rural
is declining over time. Just 63 of 233 countries or areas
were less than 40 per cent urban in 2014, down from 157
countries or areas in 1950. By 2050, just 27 countries or
areas are projected to be less than 40 per cent urban, half
of which are small islands or territories with well under 2
million inhabitants.
Figure 1. The world’s urban and rural populations, estimated for 1950‐2014 and projected to 2050
Data source: United Nations (2014) World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision.
August 2014
POPFACTS, No. 2014/3
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Figure 2. Percentage urban in 233 countries or areas, estimated for 1950 and 2014, and projected to 2050
Data source: United Nations (2014) World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision.
2
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August 2014
2. The levels and pace of urbanization vary
widely across regions and countries.
Northern America and Latin America and the Caribbean
are the most urbanized regions, with 80 per cent or more
of their populations residing in urban settlements in 2014.
Europe, with 73 per cent of its population living in urban
areas in 2014, is expected to be more than 80 per cent
urban by 2050.
Africa and Asia remain mostly rural, on the whole, with
40 per cent and 48 per cent of their respective populations
living in urban areas in 2014. Both regions are projected to
urbanize faster than other regions over the coming
decades, reaching 56 per cent and 64 per cent urban by
2050. Nevertheless, Africa and Asia are expected to remain
the two least urbanized regions of the world.
Regional aggregates tend to obscure a great deal of
heterogeneity in the level of urbanization across countries
within regions. In 2014, 19 per cent of the countries or
areas in Africa were more than 60 per cent urban, and three
(Gabon, Réunion and Western Sahara) were more than 80
per cent urban. Among the European countries with at
least 500,000 inhabitants, levels of urbanization in 2014
ranged from as low as 40 per cent in Bosnia and
Herzegovina to as high as 98 per cent in Belgium. The
most urbanized countries or areas in Africa were more
than twice as urban as the least urbanized countries or
areas in Europe.
3. The percentage urban is projected to
increase in nearly all of the world’s countries or
areas between 2014 and 2050, but substantial
heterogeneity will persist.
By the middle of the twenty-first century, nearly half of the
58 countries or areas in Africa are expected to be at least 60
per cent urban. Although no country or area of Africa is
projected to have less than 25 per cent of the population
residing in urban settlements by 2050, nine will be less
than 40 per cent urban, including some of the region’s
most populous countries, such as Ethiopia and Uganda.
Among the 51 countries or areas of Asia, about half were at
least 60 per cent urban in 2014, and one-quarter were at
least 80 per cent urban. Continued urbanization will bring
more Asian populations among the highly urbanized in
2050, when 69 per cent of countries or areas are projected
to be at least 60 per cent urban and 41 per cent to be at
least 80 per cent urban. Just three Asian countries –
Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka – are projected to remain
less than 40 per cent urban in 2050.
Oceania is and will remain the world’s most heterogeneous
region, where levels of urbanization above 80 per cent in
places like Australia and New Zealand contrast with those
below 20 per cent in places like Papua New Guinea and
Samoa.
August 2014
Among the most urbanized countries or areas in Latin
America and the Caribbean in 2014 were Anguilla (100 per
cent urban), Guadeloupe (98 per cent) and Uruguay (95 per
cent). Trinidad and Tobago and Montserrat were the least
urbanized, each with around 9 per cent of their population
residing in urban settlements. Projections indicate that by
2050, more than three-quarters of the 48 countries or areas
in the region will be at least 60 per cent urban and close to
half will be at least 80 per cent urban.
By 2050, all but five countries or areas in Europe are
projected to be at least 60 per cent urban, and three of the
remaining five – Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Faroe Islands,
and the Republic of Moldova – will be more than 50 per
cent urban. All of Northern America and half of the 48
countries or areas in Europe are expected to be at least 80
per cent urban in 2050.
4. The urban areas of Africa and Asia will absorb
nearly all of the projected growth of the world
population.
Of the 2.5 billion new urban dwellers anticipated by
2050, 90 per cent will live in Africa and Asia.
Just three countries – India, China and Nigeria –
together are expected to account for more than onethird of global urban population growth. Seven other
countries – the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Ethiopia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Bangladesh,
Indonesia, Pakistan, and the United States of America – are
projected to contribute more than 50 million additional
urban dwellers each by 2050 and will constitute together
another 20 per cent of the growth of the global urban
population.
5. The world’s rural population is increasingly
concentrated in developing countries of Asia
and Africa.
Urban population growth is nearly universal, but the
world is split with respect to rural population change:
36 per cent of countries or areas saw a decline in the
number of rural dwellers between 1990 and 2014, while 61
per cent saw their rural populations grow (figure 3).
Projections indicate that around two-thirds of
countries will experience reductions in the size of their
rural populations between 2014 and 2050.
Proportionately, Japan is projected to have the largest rural
population loss: the rural population in 2050 will be 71 per
cent smaller than in 2014, followed by the Netherlands (64
per cent reduction), Bulgaria (54 per cent reduction), and
Belarus (51 per cent reduction). 52 countries or areas are
expected to see their rural populations decline by at least
30 per cent between 2014 and 2050.
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Despite the projected global rural population decline,
many countries – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa –
are expected to continue to see substantial rural
population growth in the coming decades. Niger is
anticipated to experience the largest rural population
growth in proportional terms, nearly tripling its rural
population by 2050 with the addition of 30 million rural
dwellers. The rural populations of Uganda, Burundi,
Zambia, Chad and Malawi are projected to more than
double between 2014 and 2050 as well.
Sustainable urbanization requires that cities generate
better income and employment opportunities; expand the
necessary infrastructure for water and sanitation, energy,
transportation, information and communications; ensure
equal access to services; reduce the number of people
living in slums; and preserve the natural assets within the
city and surrounding areas.
___________________
NOTES
1
6. Governments must implement policies to
ensure that the benefits of urban growth are
shared equitably and sustainably.
The Rio +20 Conference outcome, “The future we
want”, recognized that cities can lead the way towards
economically, socially and environmentally sustainable
societies, but that a holistic approach to urban planning
and management is needed to improve living standards of
urban and rural dwellers alike.
Estimates of the urban and rural populations, percentage urban, and
rate of urbanization are from World Urbanization Prospects: the 2014
Revision, available from www.unpopulation.org.
2
The estimates of the proportion of the population that is urban are
based on national statistics. Because there is no common global
definition of what constitutes an urban settlement, the urban definition
employed by national statistical offices varies widely across countries.
Readers should keep in mind the heterogeneity of the urban definition
across countries when interpreting the estimates and projections
presented here.
Figure 3. Average annual rates of urban and rural population growth, 1990‐2014* * 201 countries or areas with at least 90,000 inhabitants in 2014
Data source: United Nations (2014) World Urbanization Prospects: The 2014 Revision.
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