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The United Nations declared the 15th November of last year as “Eight Billion Day”. Furthermore, India is forecast to overtake China as the country with the world’s largest population over the course of 2023 in accordance with the "World Population Prospects 2022" report.
The global population is growing at its slowest pace since 1950, actually registering a fall of 1% in 2020. Nevertheless, the latest forecasts from the United Nations indicate the world’s population is going to advance to 8.5 billion in 2030 and onwards to 9.7 billion in 2050.
The long term estimate is that the human population peaks at around 10.4 billion people during the 2080s and remains at this level through to 2100.
Also according to the United Nations, the risks and opportunities of this demographic explosion and the parallel crisis in resources depend greatly on the decisions that society shall inevitably determine. According to Patrick Gerland, “the exact impacts of human life in the future have not been determined”. According to the head of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, which oversees these demographic forecasts at the international level, “thus far, in general terms, the world has been successful in adapting and finding solutions to the problems”. “We need to be somewhat optimistic”, he pointed out while accepting, in an interview with National Geographic, that climate change is a powerful threat. “Simply maintaining the status quo and not doing anything is not an option”. “Whether we like it or not, the changes are happening and the situation is not going to improve alone. This needs present and future interventions.”
The world’s population surged by a billion in just 12 years. Since the first appearance of Homo sapiens, it took around 300,000 years for there to have existed a billion people on planet Earth, which took place in around 1804, the year of the discovery of morphine, when Haiti declared independence from France and Beethoven gave the first performance of this Third Symphony in Vienna.
Having broken the eight billion mark, the challenges are tending to deepen. Pollution and overfishing are degrading great expanses of the oceans. Wildlife is disappearing at an alarming rate in keeping with the pace that human beings eradicate forests and other habitats whether for agricultural purposes or for the production of manufactured goods. Climate changes, driven by a global energy that still remains overwhelmingly powered by fossil fuels, are rapidly becoming the greatest historical threat to biodiversity, food security and access to water whether for human consumption or agricultural usage.
The population explosion has also triggered waves of tension all around the world. For the first time in two thousand years, China is no longer the most populated country on the planet (overtaken by India). Even prior to the single child policy entered into effect in China in 1980, “births in China were declining almost continually”, maintained Gerland. In the 1970s alone, the birth rate dropped by a half. As a result, 45% fewer children were born in 2020 than in 2015. The Chinese birth rate now trails far behind that of the United States. Even while retaining one of the highest levels of life expectancy – 85 years – the forecasts point to the 1.4 billion strong population of China to soon begin declining. The active population has now been shrinking for over a decade. At this moment, there are not even two workers sustaining each retiree or child. In the next 25 years, the country is due to have some 300 million aged over 60 with the forecast cost of healthcare corresponding doubling.
The African boom
In Africa, in contrast, the trends are to advance rapidly in the opposite direction. In the Sahel region, the population is growing swiftly. Currently standing at 216 million, the regional population may quadruple through to the end of the second century. At this stage, there may be more people in this region than in China, which spans a territory ten times larger. In the meantime, food security is already a concern. Furthermore, a third of the people across the region live in conditions of extreme poverty, a higher rate than any other region. A third of all family households include an adult member who has to occasionally miss meals to ensure the family’s survival.
It should be highlighted that all these projections are based on assumptions and reality may prove entirely different. According to the United Nations, “it is essential to expand the opportunities for education over forthcoming decades” so that we are able to “determine just how many of us shall be living on Earth when we approach 2100”.