China’s government ordered the country’s leading ride-hailing platform, Didi, removed from app stores for “serious” problems related to the collection and use of customer data, the latest blow by Beijing to the company, which went public on the New York Stock Exchange just this past week.
In its brief late-evening announcement on Sunday, China’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, did not explain what problems it had found, only that its decision had been based on information that was reported to it, then tested and verified. The regulator ordered Didi to correct the problems and to “earnestly safeguard the security of all users’ personal information.”
On Friday, the same regulator had issued another surprise evening announcement, saying that new user sign-ups on Didi would be suspended while the authorities conducted a “cybersecurity review.” The agency did not say what had prompted the review.
That announcement, made just two days into Didi’s life as a publicly traded business on Wall Street, sent the company’s share price falling by 5 percent on Friday.
fined a record $2.8 billion in April for antimonopoly violations. Soon after, China’s antitrust authority began investigating the food-delivery giant Meituan on similar grounds. Other major internet companies, including Didi and TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, have been summoned before regulators and ordered to “put the nation’s interests first.”
China’s internet regulator has also named hundreds of apps that it says collect personal data to excess or use it in improper ways. Among them are apps created by some of China’s most prominent internet companies, including ByteDance, Tencent and Baidu. But in those cases, the regulator has required only that the app makers fix the problems within a certain amount of time. It did not order mobile stores to remove the apps.
The reason for the surge in Mongolia, Mr. Batbayar said, is that the country reopened too quickly, and many people believed they were protected after only one dose.
“I think you could say Mongolians celebrated too early,” he said. “My advice is the celebrations should start after the full vaccinations, so this is the lesson learned. There was too much confidence.”
Some health officials and scientists are less confident.
Nikolai Petrovsky, a professor at the College of Medicine and Public Health at Flinders University in Australia, said that with all of the evidence, it would be reasonable to assume the Sinopharm vaccine had minimal effect on curbing transmission. A major risk with the Chinese inoculation is that vaccinated people may have few or no symptoms and still spread the virus to others, he said.
“I think that this complexity has been lost on most decision makers around the world.”
In Indonesia, where a new variant is spreading, more than 350 doctors and health care workers recently came down with Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated with Sinovac, according to the risk mitigation team of the Indonesian Medical Association. Across the country, 61 doctors died between February and June 7. Ten of them had taken the Chinese-made vaccine, the association said.
The numbers were enough to make Kenneth Mak, Singapore’s director of medical services, question the use of Sinovac. “It’s not a problem associated with Pfizer,” Mr. Mak said at a news conference on Friday. “This is actually a problem associated with the Sinovac vaccine.”
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates were the first two countries to approve the Sinopharm shot, even before late-stage clinical trial data was released. Since then, there have been extensive reports of vaccinated people falling ill in both countries. In a statement, the Bahraini government’s media office said the kingdom’s vaccine rollout had been “efficient and successful to date.”
Still, last month officials from Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates announced that they would offer a third booster shot. The choices: Pfizer or more Sinopharm.
Reporting was contributed by Khaliun Bayartsogt, Andrea Kannapell, Ben Hubbard, Asmaa al-Omar and Muktita Suhartono. Elsie Chen and Claire Fu contributed research.
SYDNEY, Australia — All across the Asia-Pacific region, the countries that led the world in containing the coronavirus are now languishing in the race to put it behind them.
While the United States, which has suffered far more grievous outbreaks, is now filling stadiums with vaccinated fans and cramming airplanes with summer vacationers, the pandemic champions of the East are still stuck in a cycle of uncertainty, restrictions and isolation.
In southern China, the spread of the Delta variant led to a sudden lockdown in Guangzhou, a major industrial capital. Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and Australia have also clamped down after recent outbreaks, while Japan is dealing with its own weariness from a fourth round of infections, spiked with fears of viral disaster from the Olympics.
the new outbreak in southern China will affect busy port terminals there. Across Asia, faltering vaccine rollouts could also open the door to spiraling variant-fueled lockdowns that inflict new damage on economies, push out political leaders and alter power dynamics between nations.
The risks are rooted in decisions made months ago, before the pandemic had inflicted the worst of its carnage.
blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine meant for Australia to control its own raging outbreak. Other shipments were delayed because of manufacturing issues.
“The supplies of purchased vaccine actually landing on docks — it’s fair to say they are not anywhere near the purchase commitments,” said Richard Maude, a senior fellow at the Asia Society Policy Institute in Australia.
with the United States and Europe.
In Asia, about 20 percent of people have received at least one dose of a vaccine, with Japan, for example, at just 14 percent. By contrast, the figure is nearly 45 percent in France, more than 50 percent in the United States and more than 60 percent in Britain.
Instagram, where Americans once scolded Hollywood stars for enjoying mask-free life in zero-Covid Australia, is now studded with images of grinning New Yorkers hugging just-vaccinated friends. While snapshots from Paris show smiling diners at cafes that are wooing summer tourists, in Seoul, people are obsessively refreshing apps that locate leftover doses, usually finding nothing.
“Does the leftover vaccine exist?” one Twitter user recently asked. “Or has it disappeared in 0.001 seconds because it is like a ticket for the front-row seat of a K-pop idol concert?”
keep its borders closed for another year. Japan is currently barring almost all nonresidents from entering the country, and intense scrutiny of overseas arrivals in China has left multinational businesses without key workers.
The immediate future for many places in Asia seems likely to be defined by frantic optimization.
China’s response to the outbreak in Guangzhou — testing millions of people in days, shutting down entire neighborhoods — is a rapid-fire reprise of how it has handled previous flare-ups. Few inside the country expect this approach to change anytime soon, especially as the Delta variant, which has devastated India, is now beginning to circulate.
has threatened residents with fines of around $450 for refusing vaccines. Vietnam has responded to its recent spike in infections by asking the public for donations to a Covid-19 vaccine fund. And in Hong Kong, officials and business leaders are offering a range of inducements to ease severe vaccine hesitancy.
Nonetheless, the prognosis for much of Asia this year is billboard obvious: The disease is not defeated, and won’t be anytime soon. Even those lucky enough to get a vaccine often leave with mixed emotions.
“This is the way out of the pandemic,” said Kate Tebbutt, 41, a lawyer who last week had just received her first shot of the Pfizer vaccine at the Royal Exhibition Building near Melbourne’s central business district. “I think we should be further ahead than where we are.”
Reporting was contributed by Raymond Zhong in Taipei, Taiwan, Ben Dooley in Tokyo, Sui-Lee Wee in Singapore, Youmi Kim in Seoul and Yan Zhuang in Melbourne, Australia.
LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.
It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.
Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.
One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.
Homes are washing away. Much of the nation could become unlivable in the coming decade.
was almost denied a seat. International Registries, which represented the Marshall Islands on the I.M.O., initially refused to yield to the foreign minister, Mr. Woodroofe recalled.
United Nations climate meetings, countries are typically represented by senior politicians and delegations of government officials. At the maritime organization’s environmental committee, however, one in four delegates comes from industry, according to separate analyses by The New York Times and the nonprofit group Influence Map.
Representatives of the Brazilian mining company Vale, one of the industry’s heaviest carbon polluters and a major sea-based exporter, sit as government advisers. So does the French oil giant Total, along with many shipowner associations. These arrangements allow companies to influence policy and speak on behalf of governments.
Connections can be hard to spot. Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho sat on the Brazilian delegation in 2017 and 2018 as a University of Sao Paulo scientist. But he also worked at a Vale-funded research organization and, during his second year, was a paid Vale consultant. In an interview, he described his role as mutually beneficial: Brazilian officials relied on his expertise, and Vale covered his costs.
“Sometimes you cannot tell the difference. Is this actually the position of a nation or the position of the industry?” said David Paul, a Marshallese senator who attended an I.M.O. meeting in 2018.
Hundreds of other industry representatives are accredited observers and can speak at meetings. Their numbers far exceed those of the approved environmental groups. The agency rejected an accreditation request by the Environmental Defense Fund in 2018.
Industry officials and the maritime organization say such arrangements give a voice to the experts. “If you don’t involve the people who are actually going to have to deliver, then you’re going to get a poor outcome,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping.
openly opposed strict emissions regulation as a hindrance to economic growth. And an informal bloc of countries and industry groups helped drag out the goal-setting process for three years.
Documents show that China, Brazil and India, in particular, threw up repeated roadblocks: In 2015, it was too soon to consider a strategy. In 2016, it was premature to discuss setting targets. In 2017, they lacked the data to discuss long-term goals.
a Cook Islands diplomat.
The I.M.O. almost never puts environmental policies to a vote, favoring instead an informal consensus-building. That effectively gives vocal opponents blocking power, and even some of the agency’s defenders acknowledge that it favors minimally acceptable steps over decisive action.
So, when delegates finally set goals in 2018, Mr. de Brum’s ambition had been whittled away.
The Marshall Islands suggested a target of zero emissions “by the second half of the century” — meaning by 2050. Industry representatives offered a slightly different goal: Decarbonization should occur “within” the second half of the century, a one-word difference that amounted to a 50-year extension.
Soon, though, the delegates agreed, without a vote, to eliminate zero-emissions targets entirely.
What remained were two key goals:
First, the industry would try to improve fuel efficiency by at least 40 percent. This was largely a mirage. The target was set so low that, by some calculations, it was reached nearly the moment it was announced.
Second, the agency aimed to cut emissions at least in half by 2050. But even this watered-down goal is proving unreachable. The agency’s own data say emissions may rise by 30 percent.
When delegates met last October — five years after Mr. de Brum’s speech — the organization had not taken any action. Proposals like speed limits had been debated and rejected.
What remained was what several delegates called the “refrigerator rating” — a score that, like those on American appliances, identified the clean and dirty ships.
European delegates insisted that, for the system to work, low-scoring ships must eventually be prohibited from sailing.
China and its allies wanted no such consequence.
So Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, the group’s chairman, told France and China to meet separately and compromise.
Delegates worked across time zones, meeting over teleconferences because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shipping industry officials said they weighed in through the night.
The Marshallese were locked out.
“We’re always being told ‘We hear you,’” Mr. Ishoda said. “But when it comes to the details of the conversation, we’re told ‘We don’t need you to contribute.’”
Ultimately, France ceded to nearly all of China’s requests, records show. The dirtiest ships would not be grounded. Shipowners would file plans saying they intended to improve, would not be required to actually improve.
German delegates were so upset that they threatened to oppose the deal, likely triggering a cascade of defections, according to three people involved in the talks. But European Union officials rallied countries behind the compromise, arguing that Europe could not be seen as standing in the way of even limited progress.
“At I.M.O., that is as always the choice,” said Damien Chevallier, the French negotiator. “We have the choice to have nothing, or just to have a first step.”
All of this happened in secret. The I.M.O.’s summary of the meeting called it a “major step forward.” Natasha Brown, a spokeswoman, said it would empower customers and advocacy groups. “We know from consumer goods that the rating system works,” she said.
But the regulation includes another caveat: The I.M.O. will not publish the scores, letting shipping companies decide whether to say how dirty their ships are.
A Storm on the Horizon
Ms. Kabua, the Marshallese minister, is under no illusions that reclaiming the diplomatic seat will lead to a climate breakthrough.
But if it works, she said, it might inspire other countries with private registries to do the same. Countries could speak for themselves rather than through a corporate filter.
Regardless of the outcome, the political winds are shifting. The European Union is moving to include shipping in its emissions-trading system. The United States, after years of being minor players at the agency, is re-engaging under President Biden and recently suggested it may tackle shipping emissions itself.
Both would be huge blows to the I.M.O., which has long insisted that it alone regulate shipping.
Suddenly, industry officials say they are eager to consider things like fuel taxes or carbon.
“There’s much more of a sense of momentum and crisis,” said Mr. Platten, the industry representative. “You can argue about, ‘Are we late to it,’ and all the rest. But it is palpable.”
Behind closed doors, though, resistance remains. At a climate meeting last winter, recordings show that the mere suggestion that shipping should become sustainable sparked an angry response.
“Such statements show a lack of respect for the industry,” said Kostas G. Gkonis, the director of the trade group Intercargo.
And just last week, delegates met in secret to debate what should constitute a passing grade under the new rating system. Under pressure from China, Brazil and others, the delegates set the bar so low that emissions can continue to rise — at roughly the same pace as if there had been no regulation at all.
Delegates agreed to revisit the issue in five years.
Australians were among those lucky enough to see it on Wednesday evening, a rare astronomical event marked by a dazzling array of sunset colors like red and burnt orange: a “super blood moon.”
From Brazil to Alaska, California to Indonesia, people with the right view of the celestial phenomenon marveled as their moon, usually a predictable, pale, Swiss-cheese-like round in the sky, was transformed into a fierce, red giant. As one Twitter user, words failing, put it: “Man I’m in love with this urghhh.”
The striking display was the result of two simultaneous phenomena: a supermoon (when the moon lines up closer than normal to our planet and appears to be bigger than usual), combined with a total lunar eclipse, or blood moon (when the moon sits directly in the Earth’s shadow and is struck by light filtered through the Earth’s atmosphere).
“A little bit of sunlight skims the Earth’s atmosphere,” said Brad Tucker, an astrophysicist and cosmologist based at the Australian National University in Canberra, the country’s capital. He said this creates the effect of “sunrise and sunset being projected onto the moon.”
on a special flight to see the supermoon. It left Sydney about 7:45 p.m. and was to return later that evening. Vanessa Moss, an astronomer with Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, and the guest expert on the flight, said this kind of phenomenon was exciting because it was accessible.
“You don’t need a telescope; you don’t need binoculars,” she said, adding that it was a good chance to “look up at the sky and think about our place in the universe.”
studied humanity’s relationship with space, wrote in an email.
“We wonder whether the red moon is a sign of the end of disruption and suffering, or another beginning,” he said, adding that the moon provides one of the constants in our lives. “When that’s disrupted, we temporarily lose our moorings, and for a moment we’re jostled from the world we take for granted.”
SAN FRANCISCO — WhatsApp sued the Indian government on Wednesday to stop what it said were oppressive new internet rules that would require it to make people’s messages “traceable” to outside parties for the first time.
The lawsuit, filed by WhatsApp in the Delhi High Court, seeks to block the enforceability of the rules that were handed down by the government this year. WhatsApp, a service owned by Facebook that sends encrypted messages, claimed in its suit that the rules, which were set to go into effect on Wednesday, were unconstitutional.
Suing India’s government is a highly unusual step by WhatsApp, which has rarely engaged with national governments in court. But the service said that making its messages traceable “would severely undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally” and effectively impair its security.
“Civil society and technical experts around the world have consistently argued that a requirement to ‘trace’ private messages would break end-to-end encryption and lead to real abuse,” a WhatsApp spokesman said. “WhatsApp is committed to protecting the privacy of people’s personal messages and we will continue to do all we can within the laws of India to do so.”
a broadening battle between the biggest tech companies and governments around the world over which of them has the upper hand. Australia and the European Union have drafted or passed laws to limit the power of Google, Facebook and other companies over online speech, while other countries are trying to rein in the companies’ services to stifle dissent and squash protests. China has recently warned some of its biggest internet companies against engaging in anticompetitive practices.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have worked for several years to corral the power of the tech companies and more strictly police what is said online. In 2019, the government proposed giving itself vast new powers to suppress internet content, igniting a heated battle with the companies.
The rules that WhatsApp is objecting to were proposed in February by Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s law and information technology minister. Under the rules, the government could require tech companies to take down social media posts it deemed unlawful. WhatsApp, Signal and other messaging companies would also be required to create “traceable” databases of all messages sent using the service, while attaching identifiable “fingerprints” to private messages sent between users.
WhatsApp has long maintained that it does not have insight into user data and has said it does not store messages sent between users. That is because the service is end-to-end encrypted, which allows for two or more users to communicate securely and privately without allowing others to access the messages.
More than a billion people rely on WhatsApp to communicate with friends, family and businesses around the world. Many users are in India.
ordered to take down dozens of social media posts that were critical of Mr. Modi’s government and its response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged the country. Government officials said the posts should be removed because they could incite panic and could hinder its response to the pandemic.
The social media companies complied with many of the requests by making the posts invisible inside India, though they were still visible to people outside the country. In the past, Twitter and Facebook have reposted some content after determining that it didn’t break the law.
Tensions between tech companies and the Indian government escalated this week when the police descended on the New Delhi offices of Twitter to contest labels affixed to certain tweets from senior members of the government. While Twitter’s offices were empty, the visit symbolized the mounting pressure on social media companies to rein in speech seen as critical of the ruling party.
Facebook and WhatsApp have long maintained working relationships with the authorities in dozens of countries, including India. Typically, WhatsApp has said it will respond to lawful requests for information and has a team that assists law enforcement officials with emergencies involving imminent harm.
Understand the Covid Crisis in India
Only rarely has WhatsApp pushed back. The service has been shut down many times in Brazil after the company resisted requests for user data from the government. And it has skirmished with U.S. officials who have sought to install “back doors” in encrypted messaging services to monitor for criminal activity.
But WhatsApp argued that even if it tried enacting India’s new “traceability” rules, the technology would not work. Such a practice is “ineffective and highly susceptible to abuse,” the company said.
Other technology firms and digital rights groups like Mozilla and the Electronic Frontier Foundation said this week that they supported WhatsApp’s fight against “traceability.”
“The threat that anything someone writes can be traced back to them takes away people’s privacy and would have a chilling effect on what people say even in private settings, violating universally recognized principles of free expression and human rights,” WhatsApp said.
Australians will have some of the best views of the “super blood moon” this week, but passengers on a one-time flight departing from Sydney will have an even better one.
The Australian airline Qantas will operate a three-hour flight on Wednesday (Tuesday evening in the United States) for about 100 passengers to see the moon enter the Earth’s shadow and turn a blood red color during a total lunar eclipse.
An astronomer from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia’s national science and research agency, worked with the flight’s pilots to “design the optimal flight path,” a statement from the airline said. The astronomer, Vanessa Moss, will also be aboard the plane to educate passengers on the lunar event.
The flight will climb to a cruising altitude of 43,000 feet, “above any potential cloud cover and atmosphere pollution,” the statement said — the maximum altitude for the plane, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. “Cosmic cocktails and supermoon cakes” will be served.
sold out in less than half an hour.
The flight will depart from and return to Sydney Airport, beginning with a scenic route over Sydney Harbour. Australia’s travel restrictions have been among the world’s harshest, with the government largely prohibiting international travel into or out of the country, even for its own citizens.
Other “flights to nowhere” have departed throughout the pandemic as airlines scrambled to manage the sharp decline in travel. In October, a Qantas flight flew over Australia’s Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales, departing from and landing in Sydney. Tickets for the flight sold out in 10 minutes.
Climate activists have criticized the flights as unnecessary and harmful to the environment. Qantas noted that it would offset carbon emissions for its supermoon flight to a net zero.
For those who won’t be on the supermoon flight, the lunar event will be visible mostly from Australia, East Asia, islands in the Pacific and the Western Americas.
The moon will be closest to Earth at 11:50 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time, but on the West Coast of the United States, the views will start at 1:47 a.m. Pacific time on Wednesday.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Like many New Zealanders before her, Cat Moody chased the broader horizons of life abroad, unsure if she would ever return to a homeland she saw as remote and limiting.
But when the pandemic arrived, it “changed the calculus” of what she valued, she said. Suddenly, fresh air, natural splendor and a sparse population sounded more appealing, as did the sense of security in a country whose strict measures have all but vanquished Covid-19.
In February, Ms. Moody, 42, left her house and the life she had built in Princeton, N.J., and moved back to New Zealand with her husband, a U.S. citizen. She is among more than 50,000 New Zealanders who have flocked home during the pandemic, offering the country a rare opportunity to win back some of its best and brightest.
The unexpected influx of international experience and connections has led to local news reports heralding a societal and industrial renaissance. Policymakers are exhorting businesses to capitalize on the “fundamental competitive advantage” offered by the country’s success against the coronavirus.
have received both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, and Australians and residents of the Cook Islands are the only non-New Zealanders who can visit.
“Shifting into how we take advantage of the way things have changed, I think having a government that is risk-averse is actually going to be damaging to New Zealand,” Ms. Moody said.
Ms. Imam, who worked in communications for the computer company Dell in the United States, said that New Zealand’s reputation abroad was better than it deserved.
Still, she said that new government policies, such as paid leave for women who have miscarriages, had convinced her that the “project that is New Zealand” was worth returning for.
“At least we’re doing something right,” she said. “I want to be part of that.”
Eurovision 2021 was an audacious experiment in overcoming the coronavirus — but it was about more than that. What else did it tell us?
Rock ’n’ Roll isn’t dead — in Europe at least
Maneskin’s win with “Zitti E Buoni,” a song filled with off-color lines and lyrics about smoking, was not the only sign of a rock resurgence. Finland’s Blind Channel came in sixth with an angry nu-metal song called “Dark Side,” while The Black Mamba, representing Portugal, came in 12th with “Love Is On My Side,” a piece of classic 1970s rock music that wouldn’t have been out of place in Paul McCartney’s back catalog.
French could be the next language to conquer global pop
For the past few years, Spanish-language pop has surged in the American and European pop charts thanks to acts like Bad Bunny, Rosalía and C. Tangana. Is now the hour for French? On Saturday, Barbara Pravi came second for France with “Voilà” — a traditional slice of chanson that many critics compared to the songs of Édith Piaf. Third place went to Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears with “Tout l’Univers,” also in French.
Europe hates Britain. (And Germany. But a bit less.)
James Newman, Britain’s entry, suffered the biggest embarrassment of the night — receiving no points from the judges, and none from the public either. It’s the first time Britain has finished with zero since 2003. Could it have something to do with Britain’s departure from the European Union?
But, also, maybe it doesn’t. Germany, the dominant force in European politics, — received only three votes on Saturday, coming in second-to-last. Spain’s entry won just six votes; the Netherlands, 11.
Eurovision has the world’s greatest voting system
The voting process for Eurovision is convoluted and takes hours, involving juries spread across 39 nations — some nowhere near Europe, like Australia — as well as a separate vote by the public. But on Saturday, the ballot tally was a highlight of the contest. As the votes were announced, the lead switched several times between acts, with France and Switzerland seeming to be likely winners at first, before Iceland came into contention, and Italy stormed through with huge public support. It might be complicated, but perhaps other major prize ceremonies, like the Grammy Awards, should consider adopting such systems and getting the public involved, too.
All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.
Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can’t find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.
Like an avalanche, the demographic forces — pushing toward more deaths than births — seem to be expanding and accelerating. Though some countries continue to see their populations grow, especially in Africa, fertility rates are falling nearly everywhere else. Demographers now predict that by the latter half of the century or possibly earlier, the global population will enter a sustained decline for the first time.
A planet with fewer people could ease pressure on resources, slow the destructive impact of climate change and reduce household burdens for women. But the census announcements this month from China and the United States, which showed the slowest rates of population growth in decades for both countries, also point to hard-to-fathom adjustments.
spirals exponentially. With fewer births, fewer girls grow up to have children, and if they have smaller families than their parents did — which is happening in dozens of countries — the drop starts to look like a rock thrown off a cliff.
“It becomes a cyclical mechanism,” said Stuart Gietel Basten, an expert on Asian demographics and a professor of social science and public policy at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It’s demographic momentum.”
Some countries, like the United States, Australia and Canada, where birthrates hover between 1.5 and 2, have blunted the impact with immigrants. But in Eastern Europe, migration out of the region has compounded depopulation, and in large parts of Asia, the “demographic time bomb” that first became a subject of debate a few decades ago has finally gone off.
South Korea’s fertility rate dropped to a record low of 0.92 in 2019 — less than one child per woman, the lowest rate in the developed world. Every month for the past 59 months, the total number of babies born in the country has dropped to a record depth.
schools shut and abandoned, their playgrounds overgrown with weeds, because there are not enough children.
To goose the birthrate, the government has handed out baby bonuses. It increased child allowances and medical subsidies for fertility treatments and pregnancy. Health officials have showered newborns with gifts of beef, baby clothes and toys. The government is also building kindergartens and day care centers by the hundreds. In Seoul, every bus and subway car has pink seats reserved for pregnant women.
But this month, Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki admitted that the government — which has spent more than $178 billion over the past 15 years encouraging women to have more babies — was not making enough progress. In many families, the shift feels cultural and permanent.
projections by an international team of scientists published last year in The Lancet, 183 countries and territories — out of 195 — will have fertility rates below replacement level by 2100.
municipalities have been consolidated as towns age and shrink. In Sweden, some cities have shifted resources from schools to elder care. And almost everywhere, older people are being asked to keep working. Germany, which previously raised its retirement age to 67, is now considering a bump to 69.
Going further than many other nations, Germany has also worked through a program of urban contraction: Demolitions have removed around 330,000 units from the housing stock since 2002.
recently increased to 1.54, up from 1.3 in 2006. Leipzig, which once was shrinking, is now growing again after reducing its housing stock and making itself more attractive with its smaller scale.
“Growth is a challenge, as is decline,” said Mr. Swiaczny, who is now a senior research fellow at the Federal Institute for Population Research in Germany.
Demographers warn against seeing population decline as simply a cause for alarm. Many women are having fewer children because that’s what they want. Smaller populations could lead to higher wages, more equal societies, lower carbon emissions and a higher quality of life for the smaller numbers of children who are born.
But, said Professor Gietel Basten, quoting Casanova: “There is no such thing as destiny. We ourselves shape our lives.”
The challenges ahead are still a cul-de-sac — no country with a serious slowdown in population growth has managed to increase its fertility rate much beyond the minor uptick that Germany accomplished. There is little sign of wage growth in shrinking countries, and there is no guarantee that a smaller population means less stress on the environment.
Many demographers argue that the current moment may look to future historians like a period of transition or gestation, when humans either did or did not figure out how to make the world more hospitable — enough for people to build the families that they want.
Surveys in many countries show that young people would like to be having more children, but face too many obstacles.
Anna Parolini tells a common story. She left her small hometown in northern Italy to find better job opportunities. Now 37, she lives with her boyfriend in Milan and has put her desire to have children on hold.
She is afraid her salary of less than 2,000 euros a month would not be enough for a family, and her parents still live where she grew up.
“I don’t have anyone here who could help me,” she said. “Thinking of having a child now would make me gasp.”
Elsie Chen, Christopher Schuetze and Benjamin Novak contributed reporting.