Continued global population growth creates challenges and opportunities

The latest United Nations world population projection projects that there will be 8 billion people on the planet by November and the population will gradually increase to 8.5 billion by 2050 and over 10 billion by 2080 This growth will have significant economic and environmental implications. .

The projected growth is not evenly distributed around the world. Some regions, including East and Southeast Asia, are expected to experience population declines, while North America and Europe are expected to grow at very low rates. Most of the population growth is expected to come from sub-Saharan Africa and Central and Southeast Asia.

Exceeding the 8 billion mark masks the fact that the world’s population is growing at its slowest rate since the 1950s. Two-thirds of the population currently live in areas where the fertility rate, measured in births per woman, fell below the replacement rate of 2.1. In many cases, these falling rates are partly due to government policies.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Growth will be more concentrated in eight countries: the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania.

Of these eight countries, countries in sub-Saharan Africa will account for more than half of the world’s population increase over the next 30 years, creating what UN officials have called a potential “demographic dividend”, the share of working-age adults defined as those aged 26-64, increasing as a proportion of the population.

Countries that look forward to an increase in the number of working-age people as a share of the overall population, “have an opportunity to maximize dividend benefits by investing in human capital formation,” according to the report.

“While the demographic circumstances underpinning the dividend are conducive to rapid per capita economic growth, reaping its potential benefits requires significant investments in education and health, progress towards gender equality and availability of gainful employment.”

A “graying” globe

Unlike the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the population of the planet as a whole is tending to age. Between 1980 and 2022, the number of people aged 65 or over tripled to 771 million and is projected to reach 994 million by 2030 and 1.6 billion by 2050.

Some regions are aging faster than others. By 2050, the percentage of people aged 65 or over in East and Southeast Asia is expected to double, from 13% to 26%. In Europe and North America, almost 19% of the population is currently 65 or older, and this proportion is expected to rise to almost 27% by 2050.

In contrast, sub-Saharan Africa is projected to have only 5% of its population in this age bracket by 2050.

“Countries with aging populations should take steps to adapt public programs to the growing proportion of older people, including strong social security and pension systems, the establishment of universal health care systems and care long-term,” urged the UN.

India will be the most populous

China is currently the most populous country in the world with 1.43 billion people, but that is expected to change by next year, with India, currently at 1.41 billion, overtaking it. China’s population is actually expected to start shrinking this year, as decades of low birth rates take their toll on demographics.

According to projections until 2050, India is expected to remain the most populous country with 1.67 billion, followed by China with 1.317 billion. The United States, currently in a distant third place with 337 million, will retain that position as the population increases modestly to 375 million.

However, the United States will have to share third place with Nigeria. Currently the sixth most populous country with 216 million people, Nigeria is expected to reach 375 million by 2050.

Pakistan, currently the fifth largest country with 234 million people, will retain that rank, while rising to 366 million.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is expected to see a large percentage increase. Currently at 97 million, its population is expected to more than double to 215 million by 2050.

Environmental challenges

The report notes that as global population growth continues, it creates possible complications in the fight against climate change. All other things being equal, an increase in the number of people means that more greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.

“Population growth itself may not be the direct cause of environmental damage; however, it may exacerbate the problem or hasten the time of its emergence, depending on the problem in question, the time frame considered, the technology available, and the demographic, social and economic context,” he said.

However, the report argues that the most developed countries should bear the heaviest burden.

“While all countries should take action to combat climate change and protect the environment, the most developed countries – whose consumption of material resources per capita is generally the highest – bear the greatest responsibility for implementing strategies to decouple human economic activity from environmental degradation”.

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