The world population exceeds 8,000 million people this past Tuesday, according to the official estimate of the United Nations, which considers it “an important milestone in human development” and a reminder, in the midst of COP27, of “our shared responsibility to care for our planet ”.
For the UN, “this unprecedented growth” – there were 2,500 million inhabitants in 1950 – is the result “of a progressive increase in life span thanks to advances in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine”.
But population growth also poses enormous challenges for the poorest countries, where it is strongest. Earth had fewer than 1 billion people in the 19th century, but it only took 12 years for it to grow from 7 to 8 billion.And it will take about fifteen years to reach 9 billion, in 2037, a sign of its demographic slowdown.The UN projects a “peak” of 10.4 billion in the 2080s and stagnation until the end of the century.
Behavior more than numbers
The planet exceeds 8,000 million inhabitants in the midst of the world climate conference, COP27, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh.The high-level meeting once again shows the difficulty of the rich countries, most responsible for global warming, and the poor, who ask for help to face it, to agree to try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a more ambitious way derived from human activity.
But “although population growth amplifies the environmental impact of economic development,” recalls the UN, also “countries, where per capita consumption of material resources and greenhouse gas emissions are highest, are generally those where per capita income is the highest and not those where the population increases rapidly”.
“Our impact on the planet is determined much more by our behavior than by our numbers,” Jennifer Sciubba, a researcher-in-residence at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said.
India ahead of China
And it is in countries that already have a high concentration of poverty where population growth poses great challenges.The persistence of high fertility levels, which drive rapid population growth, is both a symptom and a cause of slow development progress,” the UN writes.
India, a country of 1.4 billion people, set to become the world’s most populous by 2023, surpassing China, is expected to experience an explosion of its urban population in the coming decades with already overcrowded megacities and poor essential infrastructure.
In Mumbai, around 40% of the population lives in slums, overcrowded slums, made up of precarious makeshift dwellings, most of which lack running water, electricity and sanitation.
The global figures hide an immense demographic diversity. Thus, more than half of the population growth by 2050 will come from eight countries according to the UN: Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and Tanzania.And by the end of the century, the three most populous cities in the world will be African, Lagos (Nigeria), Kinshasa (DRC) and Dar es Salaam (Tanzania).