The current world population of 7.8 billion is expected to reach 9.7 billion in 2050. Almost the whole of this growth in population will be located in the world’s developing regions.
In many richer countries, including China, there are increasing signs that population numbers may begin to fall, as women choose to have fewer children. Some experts believe that world population projections may be revised accordingly.
For those countries where population continues to grow strongly, the optimum strategy for stabilising numbers is to achieve universal coverage of reproductive health services and to respect the broader agenda of women’s rights, especially in education. These longstanding objectives are now articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals approved by world leaders for the period 2016-2030.
However, these Goals are not associated with any quantitative targets for global population. Policymaking should strive to create freedom of choice for individuals, respecting their ultimate right to exercise that choice.
Furthermore, a rights-based approach to population goals is no substitute for tackling the excessive and unequal consumption of modern lifestyles. Oxfam research finds that the richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity.
Fears for the long term security of the three essential needs of humanity – water, food and energy – signal that our world population can be sustained only if rich and poor alike can be persuaded to embed the principles of sustainability in their consumption and its associated pollution.
There is no denying the pressures of scarcity that future population growth will impose. However, deploying it as a smokescreen for our incompetence in the equitable management of finite resources will not improve our chances.
more Population briefings (updated August 2021)
World Population Projections
Opposition to Family Planning
Overpopulation or Overconsumption?
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