Latest UN population projections are scary! What do they mean for us?

By Dave Sanderson

The latest (2015) UN population projections were published yesterday. They predict higher world population figures than the previous set did. In a nutshell, the current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 (16% increase), 9.7 billion in 2050 (33% increase) and 11.2 billion in 2100 (53% increase). These are the median figures and small changes in fertility now could lead to higher or lower figures in the future.

These figures are scary to me. Currently, the global population needs 1.5 earths to sustain it and we only have one. A bigger population will inevitably further over-utilise our planet, making existing problems (political, economic, social as well as environmental) worse and harder to deal with. This surely is good reason for the Government (and all political parties) to place this issue at the heart of its policy making and strategies.

Several very striking points are made in the UN report which we must think about carefully as they will affect us all.

Half of the world’s population growth is expected to be concentrated in nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America (USA), Indonesia and Uganda, listed according to the size of their contribution to the total growth.  So the world’s biggest consumer, the USA will have significant population growth, with dire consequences for our environment. Should we be helping colleagues in the US try to avoid this happening and if so how? After all, future population growth is not pre-ordained…

Ten African countries are projected to have increased by at least a factor of five by 2100: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. I just cannot imagine how very poor, hot, dry and weakly governed countries like Somalia, Mali and Niger could sustain a population 5 times as great as they have now. A humanitarian crisis seems inevitable to me (i.e. millions will die). A very good reason I would think to ensure the UK aid programme focuses on provision of sex and female health education, provision of free contraception etc…if the local governments will allow that.

Europe is predicted to see a fall in population. Yet the report also says that rich countries will increasingly become a magnet for immigration from poor countries with fast growing populations. This is already happening as events in Calais demonstrate. According to the UN, most of our population growth (a contradiction in the report?) will come from immigration in future. I very much doubt we can stop this ‘invasion’. We Brits are an ageing population and some say we need young immigrants to help maintain our standard of living. At the same time, most people don’t want more immigration. For sure we are already an overcrowded island that could never sustain itself from its own resources.

We need a pragmatic, data-driven debate about this to arrive at a wise and practical way forward.

If, like me, you feel a need to act on this but don’t know how, consider joining the UK based charity Population Matters, which lobbies for population growth to be taken seriously and advocates positive actions. Patrons include David Attenborough and Chris Packham and if it is good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.


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