Population Matters

Nobel laureates: population growth a major threat

Nobel laureates: population growth a major threat

A survey of 50 Nobel laureates has found that many recognise population growth to be among the greatest threats to humanity today.

A survey carried out by Times Higher Education, in association with the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings, drew responses from almost a quarter of living Nobel Prize winners for chemistry, physics, physiology, medicine and economics. Nobel Laureates were asked to respond to the questions: “What is the biggest threat to humankind, in your view? And is there anything science can do to mitigate it?”

Threats facing humanity

One in three respondents cited population growth and environmental degradation, making this the highest-ranking threat in comparison to all other responses.

Source: Times Higher Education, 2017

“Climate change [and providing] sufficient food and fresh water for the growing global population… are serious problems facing humankind,” responded one Laureate. “Science is needed to address these problems and also to educate the public to create the political will to solve these problems.”

Other respondents who cited environmental issues also mentioned concerns over feeding and supplying water, as well as opposition to genetically-modified products given their potential to boost agricultural output.

Threats also mentioned which ranked lower compared to population growth included nuclear war, infectious disease breakouts, ignorant leaders (including Donald Trump), as well as artificial intelligence.

Taking action

According to John Gill, editor of Times Higher Education, “There is a consensus that heading off these dangers requires political will and action, the prioritisation of education on a global scale, and above all avoiding the risk of inaction through complacency.”

At Population Matters we advocate for taking effective action on climate change, starting with smaller families. We also recognise the inherent benefits of global education and empowerment of women, both in bringing down family sizes as well as contributing to overall human rights and well-being.

To learn more about our vision and values, please visit here.

For more information on what we can do to turn the tide of population growth and environmental degradation, be sure to visit our newly launched Solutions page.

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Global initiatives support smaller families

Accelerated population growth poses major challenges worldwide, especially for countries with high growth and few resources to cope. In response to these pressures, initiatives across the globe are underway to provide people with the knowledge and tools they need to help turn the tide of overpopulation.

Here we look at some recent initiatives that are making headlines:

“Itnein Kifaya” (“Two is Enough”) program to curb population growth, Egypt

Egypt is currently facing massive population pressures, and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said “Terrorism and population growth are the two biggest threats in Egypt’s history.”

At Egypt’s fourth National Youth Conference last month, the Minister of Social Solidarity announced the launch of a program that would be intended to reduce these pressures and curb population growth in the country. “Itnein Kifaya” (“Two is Enough”) will target 1.3 million mothers under the age of 35 who have had one or two children already.

The aim is to raise Egyptian women’s awareness of the need to bring population growth under control as well as resources available to them. The program will also include distribution of birth control methods to the targeted mothers, encouraging them to have no more than two children.

It is hoped that a coordinated approach involving the Ministry of Health and Population along with support from NGOs and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) will help the project succeed. The focus will also be on regions registering with the highest birth rates in order to ensure the greatest impact can be made.

According to the Minister of Health and Population, the strategy will also need to take education and literacy into consideration in some regions, as well as economic and educational empowerment of women.

Initiative to promote smaller families in Rajasthan, India

In Rajasthan, the largest state in India, a unique initiative is underway to promote smaller families. The State government’s Health Department is working to organise “Saas-Bahu Sammelans”—meaning meetings of mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law—in over 16,200 villages across 14 districts. The aim for this initiative is to promote the norm of small families, with emphasis on the development of local communities.

During the meetings, experts will provide information about family planning methods, helping to generate awareness among participants. Intrauterine contraceptive devices (often called coils) and other equipment will also be supplied free of charge to community health centres in each of the 14 districts.

The rationale behind bringing mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law together is because of their central roles within their families, while the 14 districts that have been targeted have also reported high fertility rates in the past. By opening up the conversation around family planning as well as providing contraceptive resources necessary, this initiative will aim to see fertility rates fall and may be replicable in other parts of the country.

CCP program to increase modern contraceptive use and desire for fewer children, Nigeria

An initiative in Nigeria with aims to increase modern contraceptive use and desire for fewer children has recently been found to be a success. A study evaluating the Nigerian Urban Reproductive Health Initiative (NURHI), led by Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP), indicated an associated 10% increase in both contraception use and desires for smaller families.

The NURHI six-city program ran between 2010 to 2014, where baseline figures rated prior use of contraceptive methods as ranging between 5% to 30% depending on the district. Once the program began, its message became: ‘Know, Talk, Go. Know the facts. Talk to your partner. Go for services.’

A major focus for the program was on improving contraceptive access at health clinics. This included creating a mobile app to help clinics order new contraception supplies before running out – a chronic problem in Nigeria and many developing countries.

The second focus was to create a coordinated campaign to generate demand for family planning services. This was done through using communication tools to help people understand the benefits of family planning and to empower them to make healthy decisions. CCP also targeted health providers and religious leaders to ensure that informed and open conversations about the merits of family planning could be had within communities. Countering the fears and misconceptions around family planning proved to be crucial, as did providing training to health providers with the most up-to-date evidence around the value of birth spacing and smaller families.

Statistically, Nigeria has some of the highest rates of maternal and infant mortality in the world. It is also projected to overtake the United States of America as the world’s third most populous country by 2050.

The success of this program, especially in a nation where low use of family planning has long seemed like an intractable problem, shows great promise. The facts demonstrate that even in a context like urban Nigeria whereby population pressures are amongst the highest in the globe, targeted programs can lead to important changes in contraceptive use and fertility desires in a short period of time.

Learn more about solving the population crisis on our Solutions pages.

To find out more about global initiatives that support smaller families, be sure to follow our twitter page @PopnMatters and stay tuned for future articles on our website.

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Royal Family urged to promote smaller families

A US-based sustainable family planning organisation has called upon the Royal Family to lead by example and limit their family size. This comes at a time when research shows that the most effective action we as individuals can take to reduce our contributions to climate change is to have smaller families.

Having Kids, a San Francisco based organisation, recently made headlines after releasing an open letter urging the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to consider carefully before adding to their family. The letter was written in response to a widely-reported comment made by Kate where she playfully suggested having more babies after receiving a gift fit for a newborn.

Everyone makes an impact

The key message of the letter is that extra children place a burden on the Earth and put future generations at risk. Anthropogenic climate change poses real concerns for all of humanity, including future generations, and children born in the rich world make very high contributions to emissions and other forms of environmental degradation.

According to scientists, Earth’s ‘Sixth Mass Extinction‘ is already underway, caused in large measure by human impact.

The letter states that ‘the example the British Royal Family sets is extremely influential’, and that studies show public figures can serve as effective role models when it comes to family planning. An additional consideration is that the impact the wealthiest families have on the environment far exceeds that of children being born in poorer or developing parts of the world. For instance, statistics show that an individual Briton produces 70 more times CO2 than a person from Niger.

Understanding consequences

While the response to the open letter has been mixed, with some members of the public saying that the organisation has no right to “interfere” with the Royal couple’s decisions, others have been swayed by the rationale for why families should have fewer children.


At Population Matters, we endorse all the points very reasonably made by Having Kids. We believe that smaller families are key to slowing population growth, ensuring sustainable development and improving lives and well-being across the globe. We also believe that far from being “interference”, constructively and politely informing people about the consequences of having additional children helps them to make informed decisions.

To find out more about the benefits of smaller families and other alternatives to slowing population growth, be sure to visit sure to visit our Solutions page.

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Now we’re in debt: Earth Overshoot Day

Credit: Global Population Speak Out

Today marks Earth Overshoot Day, the date on which humanity has used more natural resources than the planet can renew in a whole year. What’s more, this date continues to move forward every year, making the 2nd of August the earliest Overshoot yet.

About Earth Overshoot Day

Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international think-tank that coordinates research, develops methodologies and provides decision-makers with tools and information to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits. Earth Overshoot Day is the public face and campaigning focus of their highly technical work.

Calculations by Global Footprint Network (GFN) show that human beings are demanding 1.7 times more renewable resources (such as fresh water, wood from natural forests and healthy soil) from the natural world than it can provide. Each year, a symbolic date is passed on which all resources are ‘used up’ and human beings ‘overshoot’ what Earth can provide.

A country comparison

The Overshoot Index, issued by Population Matters and calculated using data from the Global Footprint Network, provides a country-by-country assessment of the demands and capacities of individual countries. GFN  has assessed, firstly, what renewable resources each nation’s land and waters can provide, and what level of emissions and waste it can absorb. They then assess the impact of consumption, waste and emissions and assess whether each country is using more than it can provide.

Each country is not isolated, of course – resources are shared, traded or exploited between countries while the impact of a nations consumption and emissions can be felt elsewhere. The numbers do not balance at a sustainable level, however. At current levels of consumption, based on the assumptions made by GFN there are 2.7 billion people more than the earth can sustainably support; a number that will increase as world population continues to rise by around 80 million per year.

Overshoot needs to be tackled in two ways: the first way is by moving towards more sustainable lifestyles to reduce our per capita consumption. The second way is to tackle population growth so that there is a larger share of biocapacity for each of us.

Population Matters in action

To mark Earth Overshoot Day, Population Matters took “Big Foot” to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History today, as part of our campaign to persuade educational institutions and nature organisations to start telling the full truth about humanity’s impact on the world. Please support the campaign by signing our petition.

For more ideas on how to solve our population problems and #movethedate of Earth Overshoot Day, be sure to check out our recently launched Solutions webpage.

Don’t be like Big Foot! Find out ways to reduce your global footprint and take action today

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The Road to 2020: London Family Planning Summit

The 2017 London Family Planning Summit was held on 11 July, World Population Day, and co-hosted by the UK government, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is the follow-up to the first summit in 2012, where participants committed to ensuring that 120 million more women and girls would have access to family planning by 2020.

A sector under threat

The London Family Planning Summit comes at a time when pressure on reproductive health is high and massive population shifts are underway. The sector is reeling from the loss of financial support and leadership from the world’s largest bilateral funder, the United States. Earlier this year, the Trump administration chose to re-instate and expand the Global Gag policy, blocking funding for health providers around the globe who also provide abortion services. This included a decision to cut all US funds to UNFPA, an agency that promotes family planning in more than 150 countries worldwide.

Population Matters has joined family planning organisations across the world in condemning these decisions as catastrophic for women’s health and reducing population growth. According to the latest data from Guttmacher Institute, 214 million women of reproductive age in developing regions of the world who wish to avoid pregnancy have an unmet need for contraception.

Credit: Guttmacher Institute, 2017

In her address to the summit, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel noted that poverty will not be tackled unless the issue of family planning is addressed. She further added, “If we can give girls and women the chance to own their bodies, they can own their future.”

Increasing global commitments

In light of these challenges, the summit provided an opportunity for a renewed sense of momentum within the family planning sector.

More partners and countries have signed on to the 2020 targets, including one new donor – Canada. Additionally, at least $2.5 billion in new funding commitments for reproductive health services has been raised.

She Decides, a fund that was created in response to Trump’s Global Gag policy, has also raised $300 million in funds for access to birth control, abortion, and women’s sexual health programs in developing nations.

Adopting a holistic approach

A major theme emerging from the summit was the need for new tools and approaches to drive family planning progress, rather than money alone. For instance, providing women and girls with a wider choice of contraceptives is viewed as imperative.

Another important recognition stemming from the summit is of the importance of local leadership across developing nations. Participants recognised that progress will only be made with political and financial commitments from the countries with the greatest need themselves.

Lastly, the importance of incorporating men and boys as part of a family planning approach was also highlighted. This is because they often control access to family planning and are also the users of one of the most in-demand methods of contraception – the male condom.

According to Ugochi Daniels, head of UNFPA’s humanitarian response, the hardest part of ensuring that family planning goals are met is overcoming the barrier of ‘attitudes’, especially among government and community leaders of whom the majority are men.

This also applies to religious and cultural leaders, who were notably absent from the summit. Ugandan health minister Jane Aceng argued that the case for family planning also needs to be made to these leaders in order to ‘bring them on board’, to shift and overcome attitudes which prevent young people thriving and women reaching their full potential.

Join the campaign to overcome US family planning aid cuts.

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Smaller families most effective action on global warming

Credit: @roxeneandersonphotography

Last week, researchers from Lund University and University of British Columbia published a widely-reported article highlighting the top ‘high-impact’ actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon emissions and fight climate change. Having fewer children was overwhelmingly found to have the greatest impact. The findings were in line with another recent report which identified steps to manage population growth as among the most effective measures available to reduce global emissions. 

Meeting climate targets

Each year, countries such as the United States and Australia are producing 16 tons of CO2 per person. Yet in order to avoid severe global warming, it is estimated that carbon emissions must fall to two tons per person by 2050. With this in mind, researchers Seth Wynes and Kimberly Nicholas set out to find which individual lifestyle choices could have the greatest potential to reduce emissions, thereby helping us meet our climate targets.

Researchers reviewed multiple actions which can help reduce individual emissions. They identified four high-impact actions with the greatest potential to reduce our individual emissions.

Credit: Seth Wynes/Kimberly Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters, 2017

  1. Having one fewer child

  2. Living car-free

  3. Avoiding airplane travel

  4. Eating a plant-based diet

In a statement made to The Guardian, Nicholas commented: “We recognise these are deeply personal choices. But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has.” She also acknowledged that while massive changes will need to be undertaken in order to seriously grapple with climate change, it is important to show that individuals have an opportunity to be part of the solution.

Adopting ‘high impact’ actions

Although having one fewer child far outweighs any other action in terms of reducing individual carbon emissions, it is rarely mentioned as part of a strategy for combatting climate change.

Credit: Seth Wynes/Kimberly Nicholas, Environmental Research Letters, 2017

In a survey of government resources across Canada, Australia, the United States, and the European Union, recommendations were found to focus significantly on actions with low to moderate-impact, such as upgrading light bulbs and recycling.

In response to this, Nicholas said the low-impact actions were still worth doing: “All of those are good things to do. But they are more of a beginning than an end. They are certainly not sufficient to tackle the scale of the climate challenge that we face.”

The key message here is that individuals can make a difference when it comes to reducing emissions and combatting climate change. It is important, however, for people to know which actions they can take in order to have the greatest impact overall.

Spreading awareness via our institutions

Population Matters is currently campaigning to persuade organisations which educate the public about the natural world to explain human impact more clearly. Our belief is that by spreading awareness—both of our human impact on the natural world as well as what we as individuals can do to limit our carbon footprints—this will help to inform future actions that people choose to take.

For more on this and our recently launched ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ campaign, please visit here.

To stay up-to-date with the latest facts and figures related to population and our human impact on the world, make sure to refer to our website as well as to follow our Facebook and Twitter pages.

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World Population Day 2017: a call for action

This year on World Population Day, we recognise the unsustainable impacts of continued global population growth, putting increased pressure on resources, the environment and those struggling to escape poverty. Yet there remains hope for the future, as action to bring down and eventually reverse population growth can be taken.


According to the most recent United Nations projections, our global population by the end of the century could vary drastically depending on the scenario. The main, “median” projection shows a population of 9.8bn in 2050 and 11.2bn in 2100. However, projections based on assuming half-a-child more on average per family and half-a-child less compared to the median indicate that our population in 2100 could see a massive range: between 16.5bn and, with half-a-child less, 7.3bn—smaller than our population today.


In order to ensure that our population growth becomes sustainable over time, effective and ethical measures to reduce the number of children being born need to be adopted. These include:

  • Public education campaigns regarding the benefits of small families
  • Education and empowerment of women and girls
  • Ensuring full, universal access to modern family planning
  • Challenging social conventions which encourage large family size and discourage the use of contraception


Today in London, a major global family planning summit is taking place, co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The summit comes as family planning aid has been hit hard by the Trump administration’s reinstatement of the ‘global gag rule’, which bans funding to any organisation providing abortion services or even discussing abortion options with its clients.

In an interview, Melinda Gates said

“Funding is being squeezed when we need it the most, because the biggest-ever generation of girls is entering adolescence. If they are empowered to decide if and when to get pregnant, they can invest in themselves and their families. If they are not empowered, they may well be trapped in the same cycle of poverty as their parents.”

Representatives of Population Matters are attending satellite events at the summit. Population Matters is calling for a benchmark figure of 10% of overseas aid to be devoted to family planning.

Our view

In a statement to the media, Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:

“On World Population Day, the global community must begin to acknowledge that the size of our population underlies almost all of the profound problems we face – but also that it’s a problem that we can address. To do that, we must acknowledge the need to start taking positive action now. 

“The progress that’s been made already in bringing down fertility rates is a welcome sign that more women are becoming empowered, fewer people live in poverty and more people are getting the health care, family planning and education they deserve. It is vital that the global community does more, better and faster on all of these fronts.  

“We are already in a crisis and our current trajectory of rising numbers, rising affluence and so increased consumption is unsustainable. We are already using up the renewable resources of more than one-and-a-half Earths to supply our needs – and those of us in the richest countries even more. If we continue on this trajectory, we will need more than three Earths by 2050. We can and must take action.

“Every person born consumes resources and produces carbon emissions. By having smaller families and curbing our consumption, the greater the chances of our tackling the multiple, urgent challenges we face: getting climate change under control, lifting people out of poverty, protecting biodiversity and ensuring that the resources we have are available to future generations fairly and sustainably.”


For more information about population, sustainability and solutions, visit our Key Facts webpage

To find out more about the UN population projections, read our article here

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Africa: Demographic dividend or population disaster?

By 2050, more than half of the anticipated growth in global population is expected to occur in Africa. While some leaders see this as an economic opportunity, others can sense a looming disaster unless measures to control population and support family planning are put into place.

As Africa’s overall population is predicted to nearly double – from 1.3 billion people today to 2.5 billion by 2050 – many of its national leaders have expressed their belief that a growing and youthful population could produce economic benefits. This theory is referred to as a ‘demographic dividend’, meaning greater potential for economic growth as a result of an expanded working-age population. The African Union has officially designated 2017 as the year of “Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investment in Youth”.

A number of expert bodies are concerned that the dividend may not be forthcoming, especially if opportunities remain stagnant. According to estimates by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, around 12 million young people enter Africa’s workforce each year, although the continent as a whole creates an average of only 3.7 million jobs per year. Unless governments can provide better access to education, health care and job training, it may be unlikely for the demographic dividend to occur.

The same can be said if governments fail to implement successful family planning programmes. At the AU Summit in Ethiopia earlier this year, then United Nations Population Fund Executive Director, the late Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin offered this perspective:

“If you don’t have a working family planning programme, it is unthinkable to reap the demographic dividend.”

While there is a growing recognition among many politicians and policymakers in Africa of the dangers of population growth and the need for action, opposition to smaller families still persists on cultural, religious and political grounds.

Food Security

A rapidly growing population in Africa also means increasingly higher demand for food. According to a recent report from the African Futures Project, it appears that the widening gap between domestic food supply and demand across southern African countries could have serious consequences for food stability. Without drastic improvements in food production, the region will have to rely more heavily on food imports.

As a result, it is likely that populations across Africa will become more vulnerable to food price spikes and climatic shocks (such as floods and droughts), ultimately leading to more frequent domestic food shortages. Given the effects of rapid population growth on both poverty and stability, it is therefore viewed that slowing population growth should be part of a strategy to ensure long-term development as well as to mitigate growing food insecurity.

For more information on matters of population and food security, visit here.

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UK population growth highest in 70 years

Last week, the Office for National Statistics released its mid-2016 Population Estimates for UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These statistics reveal that the number of people residing in the UK increased by 538,000 over theprevious year, the largest rise in actual numbers seen in nearly 70 years. Net international migration continues to be the main driver of growth, while an increase in births and fewer deaths compared to the year before are also contributors.

Estimates show

  • The population of the UK at 30 June 2016 is estimated to have been 65,648,000 people.

  • Over the year to mid-2016, the number of people resident in the UK increased by 0.8% (538,000), this growth rate is similar to the average annual growth rate since 2005.

  • The population increase of the UK reflected increases of 193,000 people through natural change (35.8% of the total increase), 336,000 through net international migration (62.4% of the total increase) and an increase of 9,500 people in the armed forces population based in the UK.

  • The UK population continues to age, but at a slower rate than recent years with only a small change to the proportion aged 65 and over (18.0% in mid-2016 compared with 17.9% in mid-2015) and an unchanged median age of 40.

  • The annual population growth varied across the UK – in England it was 0.9%, Wales 0.5%, Scotland 0.6% and Northern Ireland 0.6%.


Annual population change for the UK, mid-1944 to mid-2016
Source: Office for National Statistics, National Records of Scotland, Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency

Uneven distribution

These findings also reveal that population growth within the UK has not been evenly distributed. The rate of population growth in London is more than twice that in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and three Northern English regions. Out of the four countries that make up the UK, England’s population also grew the fastest, exceeding 55 million for the first time.

Housing under pressure

A report by the housing charity Shelter has highlighted the insecurity of people on low incomes arising from pressure on housing supplies. Factors such as a freeze on certain housing benefits are, according to the charity, threatening one million families with eviction. The underlying mismatch between housing demand and supply – especially in regard to lower cost social housing – exacerbates all the surrounding problems.

Our view

In a statement to the press, Population Matters said:

“These figures for the year up to June 2016 reflect the situation as it has been for many years now, with net migration being the highest driver of population growth. The most recent migration figures, however, indicate fewer people coming from the EU and more citizens of other EU states returning home. If this continues and the 900,000 Britons living elsewhere in the EU start considering their positions, population dynamics in the UK could start to change in significant ways.

“More people means more pressure on everything, from our food to our housing and from buses to butterflies.  With Brexit negotiations likely to have such a significant impact, it is inexplicable that the UK still does not have an integrated, effective and realistic policy framework for population. The number of people in the UK already puts too great a strain on our public services and natural resources. Multiple factors contribute to our numbers, however, not least fertility and birth rates that are higher than many other EU countries.

“Managing and eventually ending population growth in an equitable, sustainable way should be a top priority for government and Population Matters is calling on he new government to introduce a National Population Policy.”

For more information about population and its impact in the UK, see our Key Facts UK page.

For more information about the proposed National Population Policy, visit here.

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16bn or 7.3bn in 2100? New UN figures say both possible

The United Nations has today released new projections for global population growth up until 2100. Issued every two years, the projections for 2017 show slight increases over those produced in 2015 – increases measured, however, in hundreds of millions of people.

The figures also show that very small differences in family size will have a huge impact on the global population.

Key points

  • The principal “medium variant” projection is that the Earth’s population will be 9.8bn in 2050 and 11.2bn in 2100.
  • There is a 95 per cent probability that the global population will be between 8.4 and 8.7 billion in 2030, between 9.4 and 10.2 billion in 2050 and between 9.6 and 13.2 billion in 2100.
  • The chance of population growth ending before 2100 is only 23 per cent.
  • The 47 least developed countries will see their populations more than triple between 2017 and 2100, reaching more than 3bn people.
  • The medium-variant projection assumes that the global fertility level will decline from 2.5 births per woman in 2017 to 2.2 by 2050, and then to 2.0 by 2100. (A fertility level of 2.1 is considered to be the “replacement rate”, at which numbers of births and deaths will balance out over time.)
  • Africa remains the region with the highest fertility levels, although total fertility has fallen from 5.1 births per woman in 2000-2005 to 4.7 in 2015. Over half of global population growth up to 2050 will occur in Africa.
  • In the last ten years, fertility levels in Asia fell from 2.4 to 2.2.
  • The population sizes projected in the principal projection will not be met without action. In the words of the report, “it will be essential to support continued improvements in access to reproductive health care services, including family planning, especially in the least developed countries, with a focus on enabling women and couples to achieve their desired family size.”
2017 UN population projection: world
Source: United Nations Population Division

We will provide more detailed analysis of the report soon. The UN’s summary of the projections can be read here and further detail, graphs and interactive graphics are available here.

Our view

In a statement to the media, Population Matters director Robin Maynard said:

These figures contain no surprises – but serve to emphasise again both the challenges we face and that it is possible to surmount them. The 95% certainty range is between 9.4 and 10.2bn people in 2050 and fully 3.6bn in 2100. Beyond even that, the projections reveal that if there is on average just half-a-child more per woman than in the medium projection, our population in 2100 could be 16.5bn; with half-a-child less, it could be 7.3bn – smaller than our population today. 

Differences on that scale are vast and there is almost no conceivable scenario in which the planet can sustain the numbers at the upper end of those ranges. As the report makes clear, we are only going to see us hitting the lowest figures with concerted action, starting now. In particular, we’re seeing global population growth being driven in the very countries which can least handle the burden of more people and in tandem, the authors of the projections admit to particular uncertainty about how far and how quickly fertility rates will decline in those places. 

More, better, faster

The environmental and economic consequences of population growth are profound and alarming but the key message of these figures is that action to address it will make an enormous difference to our futures. The progress that’s been made already in bringing down fertility rates is a welcome sign that more women are becoming empowered, fewer people live in poverty and more people are getting the heath care, family planning and education they deserve. It is vital that the global community does more, better and faster on all of these fronts.  

We are already in a crisis and our current trajectory of rising numbers and rising affluence is unsustainable. The planet is groaning under the strain of seven-and-a-half billion of us and we are using the renewable resources of more than one-and-a-half Earths to supply our needs. The fewer of us there are to put more strain on the Earth, the easier it is to tackle the multiple challenges we face: getting climate change under control, lifting people out of poverty, protecting biodiversity and ensuring that the resources we have are used fairly and sustainably.

Find out more about why population matters and see the key facts regarding population, sustainability and the solutions to population growth.

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