The Real Story

BBC World Service

Global experts and decision makers discuss, debate and analyse a key news story.

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Getting ready for an older population
4d ago
Getting ready for an older population
The population of the world has been rising for over 200 years but some time later this century it’s predicted to peak. Demographers don’t know exactly when that will happen but they do know that we are already experiencing a demographic transition. Fertility rates are falling world wide. Fertility in China and India is below replacement rate. In developed countries populations are ageing; since 2013, a quarter of Japan’s population has been over 65, and within the next five years Japan will be joined by Finland, Germany, Italy, and Portugal. It’s easy to see ageing as a problem. After all, how will working age people fund the pensions of so many old people? But could technology massively raise productivity? Could falling populations put less stress on the planet, and offer us a world with less competition and more leisure and space? And if an older population is a problem, how to solve it? Can we encourage people to have more children? Or should rich countries let in more people? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of experts:Jack Goldstone - Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University in Virginia, in the United States.Elma Laguna - Associate Professor of Demography and Director of the Population Institute, College of Social Sciences and Philosophy, University of the Philippines, Diliman. Frank Swiaczny - Senior Researcher at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany and Executive Director of the German Society for Demography.Image: An elderly man holding a walking stick. Credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire
Is Senegal’s democracy under attack?
16-02-2024
Is Senegal’s democracy under attack?
President Macky Sall of Senegal is facing mounting pressure after the decision to postpone the scheduled 25 February presidential election to December. The opposition says the move is a “constitutional coup” but the president says more time is needed to resolve a dispute over who is eligible to stand as a presidential candidate after several opposition contenders were barred. Last week, three people were killed and hundreds arrested in protests against the delay of the election. Senegal has long been seen as one of the most stable democracies in West Africa. It is the only country in mainland West Africa that has never had a military coup. It has had three largely peaceful handovers of power and never delayed a presidential election. But is that about to change? And what will the consequences of any political, social and economic turmoil for a country with a young population? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of experts:Borso Tall - Freelance journalist based in the Senegalese capital Dakar, recipient of the Chevening scholar with The University of Glasgow and member of The International Women's Media Foundation.Paul Melly - Consulting fellow for the international affairs think tank Chatham House and a journalist specialising on development, politics and business issues in francophone Africa. Aanu Adeoye - West Africa correspondent for the Financial Times.Also in the programme:Dr Ndongo Samba Sylla -An economist who served as an adviser in the president's office.Image: Senegalese demonstrators protest against the postponement of the Feb. 25 presidential election, in Dakar, Senegal February 9, 2024. Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra
Do green policies and farmers have to clash?
09-02-2024
Do green policies and farmers have to clash?
Europe has been swept by a wave of protests by farmers, many of whom blame environmental policies for increasing their hardship. In Germany, farmers are angry about the phasing out of tax breaks on agricultural diesel. A policy aimed at reducing pesticide use was one of many grievances fuelling demonstrations in France, Belgium and the Netherlands - prompting the EU to backtrack on the policy. But farmers are worried about more than just pesticide use. From measures to increase biodiversity and soil quality to increased competition from cheap imports, the agricultural sector across Europe - and the world - is feeling the strain. So, can farmers and the environment both prosper? If so, which policies will help encourage a green transition and who will pay for it? Shaun Ley is joined by a panel of expert guests.Natasha Foote - A journalist and podcaster focusing on European agriculture and farming policyPaula Andrés – Agriculture and food reporter for Politico EuropeJulia Bognar - Head of land use and climate at The Institute for European Environmental Policy think tankAlso featuring:Christiane Lambert – A pig farmer and President of the European farmers’ lobby COPA-COGECATom Vandenkendelaere - A Belgian member of the European Parliament for the Flemish Christian Democrat CD&V party / European People’s Party (EPP)Bas Eickhout - A Dutch member of the European Parliament for the Greens / European Free AllianceProducers: Zak Brophy and Paul SchusterImage: A placard on a tractor reads 'No farmers, no food' during a protest by farmers in downtown Barcelona, Spain, 07 February 2024 - Credit: Enric Fontcuberta/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock
Will artificial intelligence erode our rights?
26-01-2024
Will artificial intelligence erode our rights?
Artificial intelligence is increasingly impacting all of our lives. Proponents say the technology has the potential to cure diseases, reduce hunger and free up leisure time by improving productivity. But others worry it will destroy our privacy, undermine our democracies and increase inequality. So, how can we ensure AI delivers the maximum benefits while protecting our individual rights? The European Union is leading the way in attempts to regulate the emerging technology and hopes its AI Act will serve as a blueprint for others. What is the future of AI and how can we make sure it works for us, not against us? Shaun Ley is joined by Scott Niekum, associate professor and director of SCALAR, the Safe, Confident, and Aligned Learning & Robotics Lab in the College of Information and Computer Sciences at The University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Karen Hao, a journalist and data scientist who writes about Artificial Intelligence for the US magazine, The Atlantic; Prof Philip Torr, a specialist on AI at the University of Oxford and a fellow of both the UK's national academy of sciences, The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering. Also in the programme: Dragoș Tudorache, a member of the European Parliament involved in crafting the EU's AI Act.(Photo: People attend the launch event of the first commercial application of artificial intelligence for the mining industry in Jinan, Shandong province, China, 18 July 2023. Credit: Mark R Cristino / EPA-EFE/ REX/Shutterstock)
Is the world losing faith in democracy?
05-01-2024
Is the world losing faith in democracy?
2024 will be the world’s biggest election year ever. From the United States to the UK, Taiwan to India, South Africa to Mexico, it’s estimated countries representing nearly half the world’s population will head to the polls in some form of election this year. But how much faith do people around the world still have in democracy?In South Africa this year’s election will be a defining one. 40 years since a post-Apartheid electorate voted in Nelson Mandela, the nation is dogged by corruption and voter apathy with less than half expected to turn out. So are South Africans seeking an alternative to democracy and what might that be?Meanwhile in India there are some concerns the world’s largest democracy is slipping into authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi is a key player on the global stage with grand ambitions for India, but his premiership has been dogged by allegations of an anti-Muslim stance. So what does his continued popularity reveal about the state of democracy in a nation where over a billion people are eligible to vote in the general election?In some Western nations too, there is a palpable dissatisfaction with democracy. In the US, former President Trump’s refusal to accept the 2020 election result led to the deadly attack on Congress – a sign for current leader Joe Biden that democracy is under threat, not just abroad but at home too.So as we enter a record-breaking year for elections, is democracy itself on the line?Shaun Ley is joined by:Ziyanda Stuurman, senior analyst for Africa at the Eurasia Group think-tank. Debasish Roy Chowdhury is a journalist and co-author of the book 'To Kill A Democracy: India's Passage To Despotism'. Lilliana Mason is associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and author of " Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity". Also featuring:Professor Steven Levitzsky from Harvard University in the US and author of 'How Democracies Die' Ben Ansell, Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions at Nuffield College, Oxford UniversityPhoto: Pro-Trump protesters wave banners outside the Capitol, Washington, January 6, 2021 Credit: REUTERS/Shannon StapletonProduced by Pandita Lorenz and Max Horberry
Is time running out for Ukraine?
15-12-2023
Is time running out for Ukraine?
This week is crucial for the future of Ukraine. After promises of open-ended support, the US and the EU are now struggling to agree on new funding for the war effort. President Zelensky says Ukraine risks losing the war if new funding is not available.So much so that President Zelensky is in Washington in an attempt to rescue a threatened US defence package to Kyiv worth billions of dollars. The aid has become embroiled in domestic, partisan politics. Meanwhile in Europe, EU diplomats are locked in talks throughout the week in a bid to strike a deal on a financial package. On the battleground, Ukraine's much-vaunted counter-offensive has stalled. Public support for Ukraine has declined sharply in the US since the invasion and a cost of living crisis is sweeping across Europe. The situation in the Middle East has only served to distract world leaders even more. Meanwhile in Russia, President Putin appears to be biding time. The Russian economy is holding together despite sanctions and he's standing for re-election next year.So why is Western support wavering? Is time running out for Ukraine? What is Putin's plan? And what might victory look like for either side?Shaun Ley is joined by:Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation in Washington DCIuliia Osmolovska, a former Ukrainian diplomat who heads Globsec, a think-tank in KyivGustav Gressel from the European Council on Foreign Relations in BerlinAlso featuring:Sergey Markov, former advisor to President PutinMatt Rosendale, US Republican CongressmanPhoto: US President Joe Biden hosts Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Washington, USA - 12 Dec 2023 Credit: Photo by MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFEProduced by Pandita Lorenz and Ellen Otzen
Is COP failing?
08-12-2023
Is COP failing?
The Paris climate agreement in 2015 aimed to limit global warming to 1.5C. But have politics and lobbying got in the way of urgently needed progress? Is it too late for some nations? There has been much scepticism among delegates at COP28 as to whether the hosts are honest brokers in this process and if the money pledged by the wealthiest nations is enough to mitigate this crisis. Shaun Ley is joined by:Rachel Kyte served as Special Representative for the UN Secretary-General, and is a long standing advocate for sustainable energy. She was vice president of the World Bank and is a visiting professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford in the UK.Cassie Flynn, who's now global director of climate change at the UN Development Programme. Cassie Flynn was senior adviser to the Prime Minister of Fiji when he was presiding at COP23 in 2017.Adil Najam, Professor of International Relations and Earth and Environment at Boston University. He's originally from Pakistan. In the summer, Professor Najam became President of WWF, the World Wide Fund for Nature.Also featuring: Amos Wemanya, is senior advisor on climate and energy at Power Shift Africa, a pan African non governmental organisation from Kenya.Vishal Prasad, campaign director of Pacific Islands' Students Fighting Climate Change from Fiji.Produced by Rumella Dasgupta and Max Horberry.(Photo: Activists protest to demand loss and damage payments by rich countries to poor countries affected by climate change at COP28, Dubai. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
How should we tackle the global obesity epidemic?
16-11-2023
How should we tackle the global obesity epidemic?
Over 1 billion people worldwide are obese, according to the World Health Organization. If current trends continue, half the world could be obese or overweight by 2035. The WHO refers to it as an epidemic. Recent data shows that over 40% of Americans are living with obesity. But obesity is not just a problem in Western countries: In China, rapid economic growth has been accompanied by an alarming rise in obesity. There have been major changes to lifestyle, diet and exercise habits. Recent data suggest that more than half of Chinese adults are now overweight or obese, with obesity rates likely to increase. In India, obesity is spreading and experts warn of a health emergency unless it’s tackled urgently. Recently new injectable weight-loss drugs have emerged that show promising results: Wegovy is an obesity treatment that is taken once a week which tricks people into thinking that they are already full, so they end up eating less and losing weight. The drug was approved by regulators in the US in 2021. It was also approved for use in the UK on the national health service earlier this year after research suggested users could shed more than 10% of their body weight. But it’s an expensive drug and in trials, users often put weight back on after stopping treatment. If action is not taken, more than half the world's population will be classed as obese or overweight by 2035, the World Obesity Federation warns. More than four billion people will be affected, with rates rising fastest among children, its report says. Low or middle-income countries in Africa and Asia are expected to see the greatest rises. What policies should governments put in place to curb obesity? What are the wider systemic factors that contribute to unhealthy eating and obesity? What can be done to tackle the global obesity epidemic?Shaun Ley is joined by:Dr Binayak Sinha, an endocrinologist with a special interest in obesity and diabetes. Rachel Nugent is associate professor at the Department of Global Health at the University of Washington. Dr Fatima Cody Stanford studies obesity at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the United States.Also featuring: Julianne Williams from the Europe and Central Asia regional office at The World Health Organisation. Grace Victory, blogger and body positivity activist. Stephanie Yeboah, body positivity campaigner; and Bethany Rutter, a writer who blogs about plus size fashion.Produced by Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen(Photo: Getty)
The future of work
10-11-2023
The future of work
The prospect of a world without work - that was the vision offered up by Elon Musk this month. The US tech billionaire has predicted that artificial intelligence will eventually mean that no one will have to work. Mr Musk suggested that society could reach a point where “no job is needed” and “you can do a job if you want a job, but the AI will do everything”.Contrasting with the idea of the zero-hour working week, Indian software billionaire and Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy - says that young people should be ready to work 70 hours a week to help the country's development.Since the pandemic, many companies allow their employees to work from home. Others have moved to a four-day working week, citing benefits such as increased productivity and significant financial savings for employees on transport and childcare. But some employers insist the shorter working week doesn’t work - saying employees ended up having more stressful workdays, and feeling exhausted once they reached their scheduled days off.How many hours should a person work in a week? Is a world without work desirable? If AI will be capable of doing many jobs, should employees be fearing the future - or take advantage of these changes, and strive for new ways of working? What’s the future of work?Shaun Ley is joined by:Andrew Palmer, who writes The Economist's Bartleby column, which explores management and the world of work Brendan Burchell, professor in social sciences at the University of Cambridge. He's done a lot of work on the way labour markets affect individuals Anat Lechner, clinical professor of management and organisations at New York UniversityAlso featuring: Jayati Ghosh, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst Elliot Keck, Head of Campaigns at the Taxpayers' Alliance Gary Conroy, CEO of Five Squirrels, a company in the skincare industry which operates on a four-day working weekProduced by Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen(Photo: Getty)
Why world leaders fear an escalation of Israel-Gaza war
03-11-2023
Why world leaders fear an escalation of Israel-Gaza war
The Israel-Gaza war has caused reverberations around the world and diplomatic efforts are intensifying to stop the conflict from escalating. Iran has warned Israel that the Middle East could spiral out of control if it does not stop strikes on Gaza. It says the US is also "to blame" for providing military support to Israel. Top US officials are warning the conflict could spread. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has talked about a "likelihood of escalation" from Iranian proxies, such as Hezbollah or Hamas, and said the US was "taking every measure" to ensure it can defend" Israelis and US citizens. How high is the risk of the conflict escalating across the region? What are countries doing to prevent an escalation? Is there a real danger of a general war in the Middle East that could pull in Iran, the US and even Saudi Arabia?Shaun Ley is joined by:Aaron David Miller, Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Mirette Mabrouk , Senior Fellow and Director of the Egypt and the Horn of Africa program at the Middle East Institute Sanam Vakil, Director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at Chatham HouseAlso featuring:Dr Seyed Mohammed Marandi, professor of English literature and Orientalism at the University of TehranProducer: Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen(Photo: An Israeli artillery unit fires during a military drill in the annexed Golan Heights, 02 Nov, 2023. Credit: Ayal Margolin/EPA)
Argentina at a crossroads
27-10-2023
Argentina at a crossroads
Argentina’s economy minister has won more than 36% of the vote in Sunday’s presidential elections, defying expectations. The election has been shaken by the emergence of anti-establishment populist and self-styled "libertarian" Javier Milei. Mr Milei is an outspoken right-wing economist whose "shock-jock" style and aggressive social media campaigning have appealed to younger voters. No candidate received the necessary 45% of votes needed to win outright, so there will be a second round on 19 November. The election comes amid a severe economic crisis - inflation is nearing 140% - 40% are living below the poverty line. Argentina is one of Latin America’s most stable democracies - but it remains the world's single biggest debtor to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), owing $46bn (£38bn). Three-quarters of young Argentinians want to leave the country to look for better opportunities. What needs to happen to improve the country's prospects? And will the economic mess damage Argentina’s democracy?Shaun Ley is joined by:Natalie Alcoba, an Argentinean-Canadian journalist Ignacio Labaqui, senior analyst with Medley Global Advisors, which offers advice to clients on political risk Christopher Sabatini. he's Senior Research Fellow for Latin America, US and the Americas Programme at the Chatham House thinktankAlso featuring: Marcela Pagano a newly elected member of the Argentine Congress for Javier Milei's La Libertad Avanza Gustavo Martínez Pandiani, Sergio Massa's principal foreign policy advisor and the Ambassador to Switzerland. Pau Bressi, a university student in Buenos AiresProduced by: Max Horberry and Ellen Otzen(Photo: Presidential candidate Javier Milei speaks after first round results, Buenos Aires, Argentina - 23 Oct 2023. Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
Is Indian democracy being undermined?
20-10-2023
Is Indian democracy being undermined?
Earlier this month police in Delhi raided the homes of several prominent journalists in connection with an investigation into the funding of news website NewsClick. Officials are reportedly investigating allegations that NewsClick got illegal funds from China - a charge it denies, the case is currently in the Indian supreme court. Are the raids an attempt by the government to "muzzle" free speech, as some activists say - or simply a straightforward police investigation into the funding of news website Newsclick? Critics say the harassment of journalists, nongovernmental organisations, and other government critics has increased significantly under the current administration. In addition to this, Prime Minister Modi’s premiership has been dogged by persistent allegations over his political party’s anti-Muslim stance. Has Modi’s re-definition of India as a Hindu nation intensified discrimination against minorities? India is known as the world’s largest democracy - over one billion people are eligible to vote in its general election in 2024. But is democracy now under threat in India?Shaun Ley is joined by: Lisa Mitchell - Professor of anthropology & history in the Department of South Asia Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Author of a recent book: 'Hailing the State: Indian Democracy between Elections'. Debasish Roy Chowdhury - journalist and co-author of the book 'To Kill A Democracy: India's Passage To Despotism'. Tripurdaman Singh - a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of LondonAlso featuring: Swapan Dasgupta - national executive member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Hartosh Singh Bal - the Executive editor of Caravan News MagazineProduced by : Rumella Dasgupta & Ellen OtzenThis programme has been edited since originally broadcast(Photo : Journalists protesting in Delhi this week, Credit : Vipin Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)
How do we stop rapid insect decline?
06-10-2023
How do we stop rapid insect decline?
As human activities rapidly transform the planet, the global insect population is declining at an unprecedented rate. In the UK, a recent survey suggested the number of flying insects have fallen by almost 60% in less than 20 years. Some are calling it an impending 'insect apocalypse'. Their disappearance matters because insects are the most diverse group of organisms on the planet and the foundation of every freshwater and land based ecosystem. They provide food for birds, bats and small mammals; they pollinate around 75% of the crops in the world; they replenish soils and keep pest numbers in check. You may not always like insects in your personal space but you certainly need them to survive. Insect population collapses could mean significant crop failures, collapsing food webs, bird extinctions, disease outbreaks and more. We're going to explore why it's happening and what can be done to mitigate it. Shaun Ley is joined by: Dr Erica McAlister - Principal curator of fleas and flies at the Natural History Museum in London and an honorary fellow of the Royal Entomological Society. Dr David Wagner - Professor of ecology and evolutionary behaviour at the University of Connecticut where he specialises in caterpillars, butterflies, moths, insect conservation and global insect decline. Oliver Milman - US environment correspondent for The Guardian newspaper and author of The Insect Crisis. Also in the programme: Dr Kendra Klein - senior staff scientist with Friends of the Earth in the United States. Julian Little - a plant biochemist with 35 years of experience in the agricultural industry including time as head of communications for Bayer in the UK. (Image: A butterfly rests at the Butterfly Garden in Konya, Turkey. Credit: Serhat Cetinkaya/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
How a flood exposed Libya’s broken state
29-09-2023
How a flood exposed Libya’s broken state
Earlier this month two dams collapsed after torrential rain in eastern Libya. Whole neighbourhoods in the city of Derna were swept into the sea. More than 15,000 Libyans are dead or missing and the full death toll may never been known. Since the ousting of long-time leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been riven by power struggles and currently has two governments - a UN-recognised one based in Tripoli, and another in the country's east backed by General Khalifa Haftar. He has been calling the flooding a natural disaster but many Libyans disagree, saying the eastern government had neglected the dams despite prior warnings about their fragile condition. There have been protests in Derna against the leadership in the region but anger is also being expressed across the country. The anguish and anger across Libya have now developed into demands for an investigation. But who will conduct this investigation? Libya is rich in oil wealth but the country's infrastructure is crumbling and the elites are increasingly accused of rampant corruption. Could this be a reset moment for Libya?Shaun Ley is joined by: Mary Fitzgerald - A writer and researcher focused on Libya and non-resident scholar for the Middle East Institute think tank. Tarek Megerisi - Senior policy fellow with the Middle East and North Africa programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. Elham Saudi - Co-founder and Director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya, an NGO focusing on accountability, human rights and the rule of law in Libya. Also in the programme: Othman Abdul Jalil - Minister for health for the Eastern Libyan government. Noura El-Jerbi - A Libyan journalist from Derna but now living in Turkey.Produced by Ellen Otzen and Zak BrophyImage: A view from the area as search and rescue efforts continuing in disaster zones after the floods in Derna. Credit: Hamza Al Ahmar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.