U.N. Says 9 Billion Will Share Planet in 300 Years
by Peter Deselaers
After several fluctuations, the world's population will swell to 9
billion people by 2300, according to new projections by the United
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 9 (IPS) - "These are scenarios. No one knows the
future, but we are tying to give a range of what may happen," Joseph
Chamie, director of the U.N. Population Division, said at the launch
of the report at United Nations headquarters in New York.
According to the medium range estimate, the world population will
rise from its current 6 billion to 9 billion over the next 300 years.
This projection is based on the assumption of an increasing life
expectancy and that in the long run women will have an average of two
children -- called replacement level fertility.
If fertility stayed at the same level it is now, the world population
would be 134 trillion people in 300 years. "This outcome even
surprised us," said Chamie. The population density would exceed even
the most crowded parts of the world today, such as Hong Kong, with an
average of more than 100 people per square meter of land (10 people
per square foot).
But even if women have just slightly more than two children on
average, population may well rise to more than 36 billion persons.
Or, if fertility is just a little less than two children per woman,
only 2.35 billion people will be living on the earth in 2300.
"What's the best guess? I think the 9 billion is not too far off,"
Chamie said. "I do not think we are going to see the two billion, but
it could happen."
But population will not grow to the same extent in all parts of the
world. While Europe's population is going to shrink from 14 percent
to 7 percent, Africa's share of the world population will double from
13 percent to 24 percent in 2300. India, China and the United States
will continue to be the most populous countries in the world.
"Even though we do not have a global population crisis, there are
many poor countries where the population growth is a problem," said
John Bongaarts, vice president of the Population Council, a New York-
based non-profit organisation.
"The biggest share of the population growth is going to be in the
poorest countries, which are least able to absorb them, in South
Asia, in the Middle East and in Africa."
He explained that Egypt, for example, already has to import more than
one-third of its basic staple food supply, but will have to absorb
tens of millions of people more.
According to Chamie, the problem is not a global shortage of
food. "There is plenty of food for 6 billion and for 9 billion of
people," he said. "The problem generally is distribution, inequity of
income and access to food."
Chamie predicts a migration flow from the rapidly growing African
continent and western Asia to Europe. "The population throughout
history has been redistributing itself. Tragically, immigrants are
dying sometimes at sea or in cargo containers, but this trend will
continue, because of the great differences between these two
For the developed countries, migration is a short-term remedy to
their problem of a decreasing population. If Italy's fertility stays
at current levels, the population will decline from 58 million today
to 600,000 in the next 300 years, according to Chamie.
Bongaarts stressed that many women in rich countries want more
children than they have. The main reason for the low number of babies
is that women in industrialised countries "have difficulties
combining a career and family".
The main concern about a declining population is the ratio of retired
persons and children to the working population.
"If you have more people retired than working, it becomes
economically unsustainable," says Bongaarts, explaining that the
standard of living will decline. The average age in 2300 will be
about 50 years, according to the report.
Currently, it is 26 years. And nearly 40 percent of the population
will be older than 60.
Chamie believes that "governments will take actions to make child
bearing and having children and raising them compatible to modern
life." But he also outlines some consequences of the aging population
for the labor markets -- people will have to work longer, their
benefits will be smaller and they will be paying more taxes to
support children and old people.
"In most developing countries, women have more children than they
want," Bongaarts told IPS, because they have insufficient access to
contraceptives, the man wants more children, or they do not know
enough about family planning. "If we empower women to have the number
of children they want to have, we will have a substantially lower
growths than now."
There is a strong link between a women's level of education and the
number of children she has, Bongaarts says. "If I had one change, I
would keep all girls in school until they are 20 that would make a
huge change to their life and to society," he added.
While deaths due to war were not taken into account in the
projections, the AIDS epidemic changed the calculations of the
demographers significantly. According to Chamie, AIDS will have a
devastating impact -- especially on Sub-Saharan Africa.
The estimated world population in 2050 was reduced by 200 million due
to deaths from AIDS.
"But in the long term we assume a change of behaviour and improvement
in treatment. AIDS becomes part of life, but at a much lower level
than we have today," Chamie said.
The United Nations report is the first population projection which
looks 300 years ahead, and also gives specific numbers for individual
countries and not just regions. Population projections are used by
social and environmental scientists as well as by governments and
U.N. Population Division
U.N. Report - World Population 2300
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