The world’s population is set to reach the seven billion mark on Monday. The milestone will have broad reaching implications.
A new U.N. report on the state of the world’s population says how we respond now will determine whether we have a healthy, sustainable and prosperous future or one marked by inequalities, environmental decline and economic setbacks.
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The report argues that the seven billion mark can be viewed positively, because it reflects achievements that are allowing more of us to survive birth and live longer. But Richard Kollodge, one of the study’s authors, says it also underscores the gaps within and among countries, particularly in the developing world.
“In many low-income countries of sub-Saharan Africa and some in Asia, population growth rates are outpacing economic growth and the ability of governments to provide adequate services," he said. "In many mid-income countries where population growth has stabilized, issues of urbanization and migration factor heavily into population dynamics.”
The report projects that Asia, with its 4.2 billion residents, will remain the most populous region of the world this century. But Africa’s population is expected to grow significantly too - tripling from one billion this year to 3.6 billion at the start of the next century.
Kollodge told reporters at the reports launch that dozens of countries with smaller populations are also facing challenges, but of a different kind.
“And in many European countries, Japan and elsewhere, fertility has fallen below the replacement level and governments in these countries are challenged by shortages of labor and productivity which potentially threaten quality of life for the aging populations,” he said.
The Americas, Europe and Oceania have a population now of about 1.7 billion. The U.N. Population Fund says they are projected to reach only two billion by 2060 and to remain close to that figure through the end of this century.
Kollodge says we must ask which actions we can take now that will lead to environmentally sustainable development in the future. He says one of the most important is to educate women to fully participate in society and make informed reproductive decisions, and that men and boys need to be part of this conversation.
“Consider that there are still 215 million women of child-bearing age in developing countries who would use family planning if only they had access to it," he said. "And there are millions of adolescent boys and girls in the developing world who have little or no access to information about how to prevent pregnancies or protect themselves from HIV.”
He and the study’s other authors also urge governments to invest in the health and education of their young people; work to eradicate poverty; provide for their growing aging populations; be responsible stewards of the environment; and plan for the growth of cities, because that is where the planet’s population is migrating.