A Crowded Planet

The population of the world has reached 7.2 billion this month according to a recent report published by the United Nations. The report, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, projects that the world population will increase by almost one billion people within the next twelve years, reaching 8.1 billion people in 2025 and further increase to 9.6 billion in 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100. These forecasts are based on the medium-term projection that assumes declining fertility in countries with large families and a slight increase in fertility in several countries with fewer than two children per woman on average.

It is expected that most of the growth will occur in developing regions, particularly Africa. Population in developing countries is expected to grow from the current 5.9 billion people to 9.6 billion people in 2100, an increase of 3.7 billion people. The population in least developed countries (LDCs) will double from the current 898 million people to 1.8 billion in 2050 and, to 2.9 billion in 2100. On the other hand, the developed regions will experience minimal increase in population from 1.25 billion in 2013 to 1.28 billion in 2100.

A notable finding in the report is that the population of India will surpass China’s population around 2028, at a population level of 1.45 billion. Therefore, India will become the most populous country from 2028. By 2100, India’s population will be 1.5 billion while China’s population is expected to decrease to 1.1 billion.

Figure 1: World Population Forecasts (in billions)ImageSource: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat (2013). World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision. New York: United Nations.

There are possible consequences of a rise in world population. 

Carrying Capacity The planet has a carrying capacity, which is essentially a limit to how many people can be accommodated in the planet, given the food, habitat, water and other necessities available in the environment. Some people argue that the world is already approaching its carrying capacity. The forecasted increase in world population may take the planet well beyond its carrying capacity, thereby threatening the existence of humans and other species.

Natural Resources More people means there is an increased need for natural resources. There will more extraction and, use of natural resources. Given the rise of the middle class in big emerging economies like India and China, the extraction and use of natural resources has significantly increased and, is expected to further increase due to the rise in population. However, natural resources are finite and, the growing population will put further pressure on the limited natural resources.

Potential for Conflict An increase in population will increase the pressure on respective governments and countries to feed and accommodate their large population. Combined with a dwindling supply of farmland and, depleting natural resources, this may increase the potential for conflict among nations. Also, high population density in countries, especially the developing countries, may lead to social unrest in those countries.

Unemployment, especially among the young The rise in population may lead to an excess supply of labour in the developing countries. Population among the 15 to 59 year age group is expected to rise; as this age group consists most of the work force, this may very well lead to an excess supply of labour in these countries. The excess supply of labour may lead to a downward pressure on the wage rates as the following graph shows. Also, there will be less resources available for skill development for each worker. A situation of unskilled workers being paid low wages may be more prominent with a growing population.

 Figure 2: Excess Supply of Labour due to Population GrowthImage

Pollution and Climate Change An increase in population will lead to increased use of resources. There will be more cars, buses on the streets and a higher number of factories. This will lead to increased pollution which may exacerbate climate change.

Sustainable Development A growing population may be a threat to sustainable development. As national governments are faced with the task of decreasing child mortality and reducing poverty, higher population may increase the obstacles that nations face in achieving sustainable development.

Overall, it must be asserted that a growing population will bring challenges for the world, specially the developing countries. Therefore, pragmatic steps need to be taken to stem the growth of population.

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