6 July 2023, media briefing, immediate use
World Population Day 11 July 2023
World Population Day is a United Nations observance day, held each year on 11 July. This year’s will be the first since our human population passed 8 billion in November 2022. This briefing from campaigning charity Population Matters provides context and background for articles marking WPD. In particular, it addresses a number of common narratives around population which obscure the reality of demographic change and its implications.
For further information or to arrange an interview with Population Matters director Robin Maynard contact Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0)208 123 9170.
Robin Maynard says:
“For such a critical issue, public debate on population is often woefully simplistic, ideological, ill-informed and hyperbolic. Most prevailing narratives obscure the reality: population growth is far from over, with more than two billion people set to be added over the next 60 years, stressing ecosystems and undermining our wellbeing. They also obscure that population action is about empowering people and providing opportunities for better lives, especially those of women and girls, and can play a critical role in tackling climate change.”
1. False narrative: global population is about to crash
Population is still rising and will do so until the second half of the century at least.
- The UN’s main projection is for global population to continue to rise until 2086, and will stand at 10.4bn in 2100. 
- According to the UN, out of 237 countries or areas, just 61 are projected to decrease by 1 per cent or more between 2022 and 2050. 
- No mainstream or credible population projection shows global population at the end of the 21st century lower than it was at the start of it – six billion people. 
- Population Matters blog on population projections: https://populationmatters.org/news/2023/01/the-world-of-population-projections/
- United Nations, World Population Prospects 2022: https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/wpp2022_summary_of_results.pdf
2. False prophet: Elon Musk says it is an existential crisis
Musk’s pronouncements on population are at best shakily supported by the evidence and at worst, absurd. Those include:
- “The biggest issue the world will face in 20 years is population collapse” (2019).  All mainstream and credible predictions foresee global population continuing to increase over the next 20 years.
- “Earth could maintain a population many times the current level.” (2020).  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified population growth as one of the two “strongest drivers” of carbon emissions (see below) and in 2018, identified future high population growth as a “key impediment” to keeping global warming under 1.5°C. 
- Population Matters report: What planet is he on? Elon Musk and the population apocalypse. Full report https://populationmatters.org/resources/which-planet-he-elon-musk-and-population-apocalypse
- Press release https://populationmatters.org/report-elon-musks-population-collapse-claims-reckless-and-flawed/
3. False narrative: population policies are coercive
Coercive population policies like China’s one-child policy and forced sterilisation in India in the 1970s are an aberration, not the norm.
- According to the UN’s 2021 World population policies report, in 2019, nearly three-quarters of governments had policies related to fertility: 69 governments to lower it (including in half of all developing countries), 55 to raise it and 19 focused on maintaining existing levels. 
- According to the report, “Some population policies, especially in past decades … were not entirely voluntary, sometimes using strong incentives or coercion … and leading in the most extreme cases to the use of forced sterilization or abortion as means of population control. However, most national population policies were not coercive and focused instead on promoting a desire for smaller families with fewer, healthier and better-educated children.”
- Empowering and positive methods are proven to reduce population growth whilst providing multiple direct and complementary benefits to people’s lives. Another recent UN report states, “In most high-fertility countries, governments have put in place policies and programmes that contribute to lowering fertility levels … including by reducing women’s unmet need for family planning, by raising the minimum legal age at marriage, by integrating family planning and safe motherhood measures into primary health care, or by improving female education and employment opportunities.” 
- Population Matters’ brand new report Power to the people: how population policies work summarises four examples of successful, voluntary but overlooked population policies – Thailand, Kerala, Rwanda and Costa Rica – and lays out the evidence for the impact and benefits of education, contraception, women’s empowerment, poverty alleviation and addressing desired family size as the recipe for a successful population policy.
4. False narrative: population is irrelevant to the climate crisis
While the most affluent people and countries have driven climate change and continue to do so, growing numbers of people both increase emissions and reduce the ability of the Earth to absorb emissions.
- In 2022, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated (with “high confidence”) that “Globally, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and population growth remained the strongest drivers of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion in the last decade.” 
- Project Drawdown evaluates practical and economically realistic solutions which can help control and reverse global warming. In 2022, it identified family planning and universal education as among the top 10 workable solutions to combat climate change available. By helping to bend population growth down, Drawdown calculates that this joint solution would reduce CO2 emissions by 68.9 gigatonnes by 2050 – more than onshore and offshore wind turbines combined. 
- According to 2020 research evaluating 44 countries, emissions arising as a result of population growth wiped out two-thirds of the reduction in emissions arising from greater energy efficiency between 1990 and 2019. 
- Widely reported carbon inequality studies show that the top 1% by income produce far more than the bottom 50%. However, that still amounts to just a sixth of emissions. Globally, people earning less than average UK wages account for around half of all emissions. 
- Population Matters briefing The climate crisis: why population matters https://populationmatters.org/resources/the-climate-crisis-why-population-matters/
- Population Matters analysis of climate inequality studies https://populationmatters.org/news/2022/02/fat-cats-and-fossil-fuel-companies-whos-to-blame-for-climate-change/
5. False narrative: ageing populations spell economic disaster
Ageing populations pose a genuine challenge, but one that is predictable, gradual, frequently exaggerated, and can be addressed through practical, available policy mechanisms.
- Half our global human population is under 30 today. UN projections show that the proportion of people over 65 will rise from 10% today to 16% in 2050  but by 2100, still fewer people over 70 than under 20 globally (18% to 22%). 
- While ageing will see a lower proportion of workers to retired people, we are nowhere near fully utilising the number of workers we already have: The labour force participation rate for men globally is around 80% – for women, just 50%. 
- Multiple policy options exist to meet the challenges of an ageing population. The UN has – calmly – identified the main ones: “Countries with ageing populations should take steps to adapt public programmes to the growing proportion of older persons, including by improving the sustainability of social security and pension systems and by establishing universal health care and long-term care systems.” 
- Population Matters’ report on ageing Silver linings, not silver burdens https://populationmatters.org/resources/silver-linings-not-silver-burdens-smaller-families-and-ageing-populations-white-paper/
- Press release https://populationmatters.org/uk-could-cut-co2-emissions-by-38-million-tonnes-if-it-followed-japans-population-trend/
Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications
T: +44 (0)208 123 9170
Population Matters is a UK-based charity working globally to achieve a sustainable future for people and planet. Our mission is to drive positive, large-scale action through fostering choices that help achieve a sustainable human population and regenerate our environment.
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  United Nations World Population Prospects 2022 https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/wpp2022_summary_of_results.pdf
 UNFPA (2023) State of World Population 2023 https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/swop23/SWOP2023-ENGLISH-230329-web.pdf
 See summary in United Nations World Population Prospects 2022 https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/wpp2022_summary_of_results.pdf or Population Matters review of population projections in 2023 https://populationmatters.org/news/2023/01/the-world-of-population-projections/
 Twitter, @elonmusk, 24 May 2022 https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/1529193812949614594
 Twitter @PPathole https://twitter.com/PPathole/status/1516474757126193154
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2018) Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5ºC, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/
 UNDESA (2021) World population policies 2021 https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/undesa_pd_2021_wpp-fertility_policies.pdf
 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2021) Global Population Growth and Sustainable Development https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/sites/www.un.org.development.desa.pd/files/undesa_pd_2022_global_population_growth.pdf
 IPCC (2022) Climate change 2022: mitigation of climate change https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-3/
 Project Drawdown (2022), Table of Solutions, https://drawdown.org/solutions/table-ofsolutions
 Chaurasia, A.R. (2020) Population effects of increase in world energy use and CO2 emissions: 1990-2019, The Journal of Population and Sustainability https://jpopsus.org/full_articles/population-effects-of-increase-in-world-energy-use-and-co2-emissions-1990-2019/
 Oxfam International (2020) Confronting Carbon Inequality: Putting climate justice at the heart of the COVID-19 recovery, https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/confronting-carboninequality See also Population Matters analysis at https://populationmatters.org/news/2022/02/fat-cats-and-fossil-fuel-companies-whos-to-blame-for-climate-change/
 UNDESA World population ageing 2020 https://www.un.org/development/desa/pd/news/world-population-ageing-2020-highlights
 United Nations World Population Prospects 2022
 World Bank 2022 https://genderdata.worldbank.org/data-stories/flfp-data-story/
 United Nations World Population Prospects 2022