Why Prince William is wrong to attribute habitat loss to population growth in Africa


The Duke of Cambridge made new comments this week regarding the “pressure” placed on African wildlife by human populations.

In a speech at the Tusk Conservation Awards on Monday, he said that “the increasing pressure on Africa’s wildlife and wilderness due to the human population presents a huge challenge for conservationists, as is the case in the whole world”.

This is the second time the Duke has raised the issue of increasing African population rates, after delivering a similar speech at the Tusk Trust Ball in 2017.

The first comments were made as the Duchess of Cambridge was expecting their third child, leading to accusations of hypocrisy as the couple now have more children than enough to replace each other.

So why is Prince William so focused on growth in Africa, and is it fair that a royal from Europe’s second most densely populated country is pointing fingers?

Predicting population growth

According to 2019 UN World Population Prospects Study, 61% of the world population lives in Asia (4.7 billion people), against 17% in Africa (1.4 billion) and 10% in Europe (750 million).

While studies of population growth can never be anything but predictions, as they are unable to factor in the consequences of global events such as war, famine and migration, they make particularly eye-catching headlines. Especially since this type of growth tends to occur in waves across the world, with some populations decreasing while others are increasing.

Globally, the number of people in the world is expected to grow steadily over the coming decades, reaching 8.5 billion in 2030, 9.7 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.

By 2050, the UN predicts that half of the world’s population growth will take place in Africa, doubling the continent.

In contrast, European populations have been declining steadily for decades and fertility rates are now below the levels needed to replace them, with an average of 2.1 children per woman.

What is the difference between growth and density?

While population growth in Africa may seem significant given these statistics, what Prince William did not take into account in his speech is population density and the role it plays in the distribution of natural resources.

“The prince rightly draws attention to the growth of the human population as a key factor in the loss of wildlife,” said Robin Maynard, director of the charity. Population issues.

“There is also a larger context, with high consumption in rich and developed countries like the UK, also leading to habitat destruction, climate change and pollution – all drivers of extinction. Addressing our consumption here is also essential.

The UK has the second highest population density in Europe, after the Netherlands, with 281 inhabitants per km2. In comparison, Africa’s density is only 45 people per km2, while the most densely populated country in the world today is Bangladesh, with 1,252 people per square kilometer.

Taking into account population density is extremely important when it comes to growth, because in more densely populated countries there will be much higher competition for natural resources and therefore more pressure on ecosystems and wildlife.

This is evidenced by the fact that the UK is one of the most nature-impoverished countries in the world, with only 53 percent of its biodiversity remaining, according to a study by the Natural History Museum. The global average for biodiversity is 75%.

What about the carbon footprint of UK citizens … William?

Another important factor that Prince William did not take into account is the carbon footprint of citizens of the Global North compared to the Global South.

A Oxfam study published in January 2020 found that the average UK citizen is responsible for more CO2 emissions in just two weeks than a resident of any of the seven African countries in an entire year. The countries in question were: Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso.

For more comparison, the Eco-expert estimated the UK royals’ annual carbon footprint in October this year and found their carbon output to be 3,810 tonnes, while the average Briton emits just 10 tonnes per year.

Is it eco-fascism?

While Prince William’s renewed comments may come from a place of genuine concern for the fate of planet Earth, his way of speaking unintentionally puts him in bad company.

Eco-fascism is a theory that sees overpopulation and immigration blamed for the effects of the climate crisis. The burden of blame is often placed on black, brown and marginalized communities, the very ones that have been least responsible for overconsumption and mass industrialization.

Africa’s population is growing due to a number of factors including better healthcare, longer life expectancy and a much younger population on average than that of Europe – with a median age of 19 , 7 years against 42.5 years in Europe. But if the UK really cared about growth, it wouldn’t cut aid.

“Number of women (in sub-Saharan Africa) with an unmet need for modern and safe contraception is actually increasing, ”says Maynard.

“Despite this, the UK government has cut back its aid to the United Nations Population Fund, which is doing vital work to meet this need. Empowering women to access and choose contraception is crucial for reducing poverty, enabling development and coping with the extinction crisis.

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