What’s Going On Here?

On the 15th November the global population reached 8 billion, according to the United Nations. It’s just 12 years since the world celebrated the birth of its 7 billionth resident. But look closer and this data contains some trends which might surprise you.

What Does This Mean?

The world’s population is still growing, but slower than before. It’s projected to reach 9 billion in 2037—that’s 15 years away. This is the slowest growth we’ve seen since the 1950s.

Here’s the conundrum: the global birth rate is falling. Fewer children are being born. The most recent World Bank data shows that the birth rate in 2020 was 2.4 births per woman on average. It’s dropped by half since the 1960s.

So, why does the population continue to increase? It’s down to life expectancy. People are living longer thanks to higher living standards, better healthcare and a whole load of other advancements.

Based on current trends in birth rates and death rates, population growth will continue to slow down. The global population is likely to peak at 10.4 billion people in the 2080s, and then start to decline.

Why Should We Care? 

On the face of it, the link between population growth and environmental protection seems straightforward. More people = more emissions, right?

But there’s a shady side to this issue. In the last few decades, some people have begun to argue that overpopulation is the most pressing threat to the environment. This narrative has been co-opted by a far-right ideology known as “ecofascism”.

In fact, population growth is just one of many growing pressures on the planet, and we shouldn’t overstate its significance.

Rich countries emit far more carbon dioxide than poorer ones. Australia and the United States emit around 15 metric tonnes of CO2 per person, while most countries in Africa emit less than half a tonne.

Demographic trends also vary a lot between countries and regions. For example, India’s population is expected to surpass China’s next year, while in South Korea the birth rate is just 0.84 births per woman. These differences are shaped by a complex web of social and economic factors.

Be Curious!

📊 Look deeper into the data. The World Bank Open Data has some excellent interactive charts and maps to help you get your head around what’s happening.

🧒 Get a glimpse of the future. Read the UN report about the global population and what it’s likely to look like in the year 2100.

🎓Understand the link between education and population growth. Read another of our articles from 2019.

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