In a major policy speech, Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, has highlighted the problems caused by growing population and the impact that foreign aid can have in preventing it.
Mr Johnson’s comments were made in the course of a speech to the prestigious British foreign affairs think tank, Chatham House. Referring to the significant threats to the survival of the African elephant, he noted that that the population of Africa is now nearing 1 billion people, and doubling every 20 to 25 years in some African countries. As Mr Johnson put it, “the massive growth in [human] population . . . means a contest for resources that an elephant is never going to win.”
Mr Johnson described population growth as “another of those things that we thought had got better … 20 or 25 years ago we thought we were turning the tide”. He went on to describe “one answer” to what he called the “population boom”: work funded by the UK’s Department for International Development to teach girls to read in Pakistan, where two thirds of adult women are illiterate.
“It is about giving them the chance to take control of their lives. All evidence confirms that wherever women are empowered and educated there are immediate improvements in the prosperity of that society and the stabilisation of the birth rate.
“And with the world now likely to hit 11 bn people by 2050 – not 9 bn as we thought a decade or so ago, but 11 bn people – that British mission to educate young women and girls, to save them from the evil of modern slavery, to uphold our belief in equality wherever we go is as profoundly in our interests as it is of girls in the developing world.”
Population Matters recently participated in a productive meeting at the UK Department for International Development to discuss the role of family planning and limiting population growth in reducing poverty.
Note. The UN projects a significant range of possible population figures for 2050 to account for the large range of factors involved. Its current median projection is a population of 9.7 bn but that depends on continued falls in fertility and positive action to achieve them.
Study: hitting Sustainable Development Goals will slash population growth
Last week, before Mr Johnson made his comments, a study from Shanghai University claimed that achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030 would mean a global population of between 8.2 and 8.7 billion by 2100, significantly below the UN’s predicted range of 9.5 to 13 billion. The Sustainable Development Goals are a set of agreed global targets for 2030 intended to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure global prosperity.
In a similiar vein to Mr Johnson, one of the study’s authors noted that
“The key factors are the effects of increasing female education on lowering birth rates in developing countries, and the health target that includes universal access to reproductive health services.
“In general we find that if the international community fails to reach the SDGs then world population growth will be higher, people will be poorer and in worse health, and this larger world population will be more vulnerable to environmental change.”