The concept of human overpopulation, once common, is now rarely used in the scientific literature. The global population is set to surpass eight billion later this year, according to a United Nations forecast. It says that the planet should hit 8.5 billion people in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050, peaking at around 10.4 billion in the 2080s before steadying at that level until 2100. All analysts and population models agree that without any totalitarian or coercive measures, populations will start declining. The question is simply when.
The UN’s Secretary-General António Guterres said the milestone was something to welcome, calling it an occasion to “celebrate our diversity, recognise our common humanity, and marvel at advancements in health that have extended lifespans and dramatically reduced maternal and child mortality rates”.
Population growth fell to less than 1% in 2020 according to the report, mainly due to a decline in fertility in many countries, which has fallen “markedly” in recent decades.
Today, some two-thirds of the global population live in a country or area where lifetime fertility is below 2.1 births per woman, “roughly the level required for zero growth in the long run, for a population with low mortality”, according to the UN.
In 61 countries or areas, the population is expected to decrease by at least 1% over the next three decades, as a result of “sustained low levels of fertility” and in the case of some countries, “elevated rates of emigration”.
More than half of the projected increase in the global population up to 2050 will be concentrated in just eight countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines and the United Republic of Tanzania.
China's population will be dropping to 770 million by 2100, while the Russian Federation's population of 145 million dropping to just 133 million by 2050 and 112 by the end of the century.
Since the start of the millennium, “UN reports show that global resource use has been primarily driven by increases in affluence, not the population”, said The Washington Post. This is “especially true in high- to upper-middle-income nations, which account for 78% of material consumption, despite having slower population growth rates than the rest of the world”, said the paper. Meanwhile, in low-income countries, whose share of the global population has “almost doubled”, the demand for resources has “stayed constant at just about 3% of the global total”.
When concern about population becomes central to environmental policy, said researcher Betsy Hartman, “racism and xenophobia are always waiting in the wings. It just shifts the discourse away from the real problem of who has power and how the economy is organized.”