Until 1804, less than a billion people roamed our planet. More than a century later, in 1927, we crossed two billion.
Since then, the world’s population has soared like a hockey stick, boosted by the triumphs of modern medicine and public health.
The latest marker was adopted on Tuesday, when the United Nations declared that the world’s population had reached eight billion, just 11 years after surpassing seven billion. (That’s an inaccurate number, as there’s no official tally, but the international body said its projections crossed the line on Tuesday.)
The rate of growth, which is expected to slow globally over the coming decades, has been uneven around the world. Slowing growth rates in populous countries like China and the United States have caused some concern, threatening to upend their societies. Rising birth rates in the poorest countries threaten to strain already struggling systems.
Here are some of the challenges ahead.
Much of the population growth comes from the poorest countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.
About 70% of the seven billion to eight billion growth occurred in low- and lower-middle-income countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations. The trend is expected to increase further in the years to come.
“When the next billion is added between 2022 and 2037, these two groups of countries are expected to account for more than 90% of global growth,” the organization said.
The fertility rate has fallen globally; In high-income countries, the number of people under the age of 65 is expected to decrease in the coming years, according to the United Nations. But fertility rates have remained stubbornly high in poorer countries, where more women and girls lack access to sexual and reproductive health care, including contraception.
Meeting the needs – including education, public health, employment, water and sanitation – created by this growth will require “a significant increase in public spending”, the organization said.
Environmental impact: Our levels of production and consumption are unsustainable.
Population growth has contributed to fuel consumption at what experts say is an unsustainable rate. It has contributed to environmental challenges including climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss, the United Nations has said.
“Slowing population growth over several decades could help mitigate the accumulation of environmental damage in the second half of the current century,” the organization said.
Low-income countries, where population growth is concentrated, have contributed far less to climate change than wealthier nations. But as the poorest populations increase, “their energy consumption will have to increase dramatically if they are to grow economically,” the organization said.
Experts predict slower growth ahead.
While it took 11 years for the population to grow from seven billion to eight billion, the United Nations said it expects 15 years to pass before we reach nine billion, in 2037, and 22 others before rising to 10 billion in 2058.
“A global population decline is not expected for another half century, with the exact date largely depending on the future pace of fertility decline in today’s high-fertility countries,” the organization said. .
Births in China hit an all-time low in 2021, a fact that, coupled with its increased life expectancy, could lead to labor shortages and hamper economic growth. The United States has also slowed, advancing at the slowest pace since the 1930s over the past decade.
India is expected to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation in 2023, the United Nations said in July.
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