For the world population?
The world population is growing (1.10% per year). According to the UN, it will continue to do so. However, the global trend is decelerating. The demographic transition - from high to low birth and mortality rates - is taking place at various levels around the world. Indeed:
- Between 1965 and 1970, the population growth rate reached over 2.05% per year vs 1.10% per year today.
- While the global average TFR used to be 3.9 in 1975-1980, it is estimated at 2.4 for 2015-2020 and could reach 1.9 in 2095-2100.
While there seems to be a global trend, it is however essential to highlight the important disparities between two different groups: on the one hand, that of aging powers (mainly in Eurasia), and on the other hand, that of younger countries (in Africa in particular, but also some parts of Asia). In coming decades, half of the world population growth will come from the contribution of about 10 countries: India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the United States, Uganda and Indonesia. Map 1.
… for the planet?
What will happen to our planet if the population increases, as predicted by the UN, thus reaching 11 billion people by 2100? Will everyone have a chance to be fed?
To answer this question, we must go beyond the pessimistic narratives currently dominating the public debate. The existing nutritional problems, which mainly affect Africa, are, before anything, caused by humans rather than by nature (conflicts, bad governance, insufficient transport). Although still significant, malnutrition is decreasing (11% in 2016, vs. 14% in 2000). The production of cereals per year and per person is greater (over 300 kilos) than are the needs (200 kilos). By optimizing the use and distribution of resources, limiting waste, cultivating new land, and developing more economical irrigation techniques, our planet might, not to say will, be able to accommodate and feed 10 to 12 billion inhabitants, and possibly even more.
Moreover, as advocated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), movements caused by the environment are generally gradual and highly dependent on economic opportunities elsewhere (flows are therefore still predictable and controllable). While global climate change is indeed impacted by the increase in the world population, it cannot be the sole factor explaining why populations migrate to other territories.
… for the new geopolitical order?
Geopolitics are inseparable from demographic evolutions, since the latter can have a significant and direct impact on the great world powers and drastically reshuffle the cards in terms of soft power.
- The United States, the world's leading power, is likely to consolidate its leadership position thanks to a relatively high birth rate (representing more than half of the annual population growth) and continued immigration (less than half).
- China is likely to continue its demographic decline in comparison to India (in 2100, India could have one billion and a half inhabitants... against one billion for China). The Middle Kingdom is facing an unprecedented aging of its population, due in particular to its one-child policy, which has fostered 4-2-1 family models (four grandparents, two parents and one child).
- Europe is likely to go through a difficult demographic phase, marked by a reduction of its population by 2030. By 2050, Germany, the United Kingdom and France are likely to remain the three most populated countries on the continent, but population gaps should be narrowing, with Germany’s population stagnating between 2015 and 2050, while France and the United Kingdom will see their populations increase (between 7 and 10 million additional inhabitants).
- Generalized aging (in 2050, there will be more seniors than under 20 year olds) could lead to what is referred to as "geriatric peace", as countries with older populations are less likely to experience episodes of violence.
By the end of the century, the world population could stabilize - about two children per woman on all continents and a life expectancy at birth over 80 years. The way in which Africa evolves will determine the size of the world population at that time. Depending on the evolution of its fertility, the world population could reach, according to median projections, either 11 billion inhabitants according to the UN... or merely nine billion according to IIASA. In other words, this uncertainty is worth two billion people.