According to a team of experts from the Earth4All initiative, global population could peak at 8.5 billion people by mid-century if the world takes a “giant leap” in investment in economic development. This new projection is significantly lower than other prominent population estimates, including those conducted by the United Nations.
By using a new system dynamics model, the researchers explored two possible scenarios for population growth. In the first scenario – which they call “Too Little Too Late,” and assumes that the world continues to develop in the same way as it had over the past half a century, with many of the poorest countries breaking free from extreme poverty – the global population is expected to peak at 8.6 billion in 2050, before declining to seven billion in 2100.
In the second one – called the “Giant Leap” and achieved through massive investments in poverty alleviation (mainly through developments in education and health), together with major policy turnarounds on issues related to food and energy security, inequality, and gender equity -poverty is eliminated in a generation (by 2060), and global population will peak at 8.5 billion by 2040 and decline to six billion by the end of the century.
By contrast to scenarios developed by other researchers, these ones take into account the critical importance of rapid economic development. “We know rapid economic development in low-income countries has a huge impact on fertility rates. Fertility rates fall as girls get access to education and women are economically empowered and have access to better healthcare,” said Per Espen Stoknes, Earth4All’s project lead and the director of the Center for Sustainability at the Norwegian Business School.
“Few prominent models simulate population growth, economic development, and their connections simultaneously,” added Beniamino Callegari, an economist at the Kristiania University College.
The analysis revealed that population growth is currently the highest in some nations in Africa and Asia, including Angola, Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Afghanistan. “If we assume these countries adopt successful policies for economic development then we can expect population to peak sooner rather than later,” Callegari said.
The scientists also analyzed the connection between population and exceeding planetary boundaries, and found that, contrary to popular beliefs, population size is not the prime driver of exceeding planetary boundaries such as climate change. Instead, the enormous material footprint levels among the world’s richest ten percent plays the highest role in destabilizing the planet.
Thus, according to the researchers’ demographic projections, with an equal distribution of resources, the entire population could achieve living conditions exceeding UN’s minimum threshold without significant changes in developmental trends. “A good life for all is only possible if the extreme resource use of the wealthy elite is reduced,” concluded Jorgen Randers, one of leading modelers at Earth4All.
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