Population Matters

Key Facts

Key Facts

Our population is growing

There are now more than 7,500,000,000 people on planet Earth. (UN)

It took until the early 1800s for the world population to reach one billion. Now we add a billion every 12-15 years. (UN)

The UN estimates a population of nearly 9.8bn by 2050 – 30% higher than it is today. It also projects a possible population of 11bn by then, at which rate our numbers could reach 16bn by 2100. (UN)

(For more information about global population, visit the Our numbers page.)

10,000 years ago, humans made up 1% of the weight of vertebrate land animals: the rest were all wild. Today, wild animals make up just 1%. The other 99% is humans, our farmed animals and our pets. (Vaclav Smil)

The Earth cannot provide for us all

We are currently using up the renewable resources of 1.7 Earths— unless things change, we’ll need three by 2050
Global Footprint Network

Planet Earth

We will need 70% more food by 2050
Food and Agriculture Organization

More than 4bn people will live in regions short of water by 2050

Due to population growth, availability of land per person in developing countries is expected to halve by 2050
Food and Agriculture Organization

Globally, we’ll use 71% more resources each by 2050
International Research Panel

The global demand for energy will increase by 30% by 2040
International Energy Agency

A global ‘middle class’ of 3.2 billion people consuming at a high level in 2016 is expected to rise to roughly 5 billion by 2030
Brookings Institution

The natural world is paying the price

Populations of wild animals have halved since 1970, whereas the human population has doubled

The extinction rate of animals and plants is 100 times higher than it would be without the effects of human activity

Climate change is happening 170 times faster than it would do without human activity
Gaffney & Steffen 2017

Based on today’s average global emission rates, population growth until 2050 will produce the same additional CO2 emissions as four additional USAs
World Bank (calculation by Population Matters)


Mother and newbornA little less makes a lot of difference

The UN’s projections are estimates based on assumptions. It also calculates that if, on average, there is just half-a-child less per family in the future than it has assumed, there will be one billion fewer of us by 2050 than it expects – and four billion fewer by the end of the century (within the lifetimes of many children born today).  Billions less mouths to feed, land to use and greenhouse gases to be produced.

We can bring birth rates down

Countries have had dramatic success in reducing their birth rates. Thailand, for instance, reduced its fertility rate by more than a third in just two generations with a targeted, creative and ethical family planning programme.

One less rich person helps slows the warming of the planet

Because consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are so much greater in the developed world, fewer people being born there has a far greater effect on global warming than many people not being born in poorer countries.

Choosing a smaller family is the most effective way of cutting your carbon emissions

A study by the Universities of Lund and British Columbia in 2017 found that not having a child was 25-times more effective in reducing a person’s carbon footprint than any other measure an individual in the developed world can take.

Smaller families help countries escape poverty

Individuals, communities and nations can be trapped in a cycle of poverty by the need to provide for large numbers of children and a growing population. Marie Stopes International has calculated that with a five per cent increase in the number of women with access to contraception, a small country in sub-Saharan Africa could expect an increase in GDP per capita of 35 per cent.

Family planning is a great investment of overseas aid

Approximately 200 million women worldwide have an unmet need for contraception. When people are able to control and reduce the number of children they have, that reduces the demand for other services, such as health, education and sanitation. An international expert panel calculated that $1 of overseas aid spent on family planning in a developing country can be “worth” $120 of other aid.

Smaller families save lives

In countries with high levels of maternal and child illness, spacing children (which helps to reduce overall family size) is a vital health protection measure. A child in Kenya born 36 months after the last child is a third less likely to die than one born 18 months after.

Women’s empowerment reduces family size

Where women and girls have economic empowerment, education and freedom, they choose to have smaller families. African women with no education have, on average, 5.4 children; women who have completed secondary school have 2.7 and those who have a college education have 2.2. When family sizes are smaller, that also empowers women to gain education, take work and improve their economic opportunities.

Learn more about the solutions to population growth

See the Key Facts about UK population

Next: Myths

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