Leaders urged to be “brave” on population growth
March 13th 2007
The extra human population forecast for the planet in 2050 will have an effect on climate change equivalent to nearly two more Americas, the Optimum Population Trust said today (Tuesday, March 13).
Commenting on the new population projections released by the UN in New York today, which show global population rising by 2.5 billion to 9.2 billion by 2050*, OPT co-chair Valerie Stevens said: “The world needs to wake up to the devastating effects the growth in numbers of our own species is having on the climate, on planetary ecosystems and on human survival prospects.
“Year after year population figures are released that must spell increasing crisis for all of us and yet they are met with a deafening silence. Everything we manage to achieve for the natural environment is being wiped out by the nearly 80 million extra people each year who need to use up space and resources.
“We know that population is a sensitive issue but it really is time that political and environmental leaders stopped worrying about causing ‘offence’ to people or about a backlash from public opinion, took their courage in their hands and began alerting everyone to the need to rein back human numbers, humanely and democratically, for the sake of the planet.”
Since humans and their activities are the source of rising carbon dioxide emissions, each increment in the world’s population makes it correspondingly harder to tackle climate change, Valerie Stevens pointed out. In 2050, according to the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “medium-low” scenario, average world per capita emissions of carbon will be 1.2 tonnes (4.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide). An extra 2.5 billion people will thus generate, conservatively estimated, about 3 billion tonnes of carbon. This is nearly twice the emissions of the US, which are roughly 1.6 billion tonnes of carbon a year (2004 figures, Energy Information Administration), and 40 per cent of total global emissions (7.4 billion tonnes, 2004, EIA).
However, all living systems are at risk from human population growth. Sir David King, the Government’s chief scientist, told a hearing of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Population, Development and Reproductive Health on July 3 2006: “It is self-evident that the massive growth in the human population through the 20th century has had more impact on biodiversity than any other single factor.” (Quoted in Return of the Population Growth Factor – Its impact upon the millennium development goals, APPG, January 31, 2007).
The APPG’s main report also concluded: “The evidence is overwhelming: the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] are difficult or impossible to achieve with the current levels of population growth in the least developed countries and regions.”
Valerie Stevens added: “It surely isn’t asking too much of our leaders, not only politicians but the people heading up environmental and development organisations, to make the facts about population and the environment clear to the public. Some politicians have started being ‘braver’ about climate change. They should go one step further now and tell us the truth about the damage human population growth is doing to the planet.”
* The newly released 2006 Revision of the official United Nations population estimates and projections says the world’s population will reach 6.7 billion in July this year. By then world population will have risen by 547 million since 2000, a gain of 78 million persons annually.
The 2.5 billion rise expected by 2050 is equivalent to the total size of the world population in 1950. The 9.2 billion forecast for 2050 is 0.1 billion higher than projected in the previous Revision in 2004. However, limiting the increase to 2.5 billion depends on fertility in less developed countries dropping from 2.75 children per woman in 2005-2010 to 2.05 in 2045-2050. To achieve such reductions, the UN says it is essential that access to family planning expands in the poorest countries. If fertility remained at 2000-2005 levels, world population in 2050 would be nearly 12 billion.