The planet is now home to 8 billion people

The planet is now home to 8 billion people


How many people can our planet support?

The UN estimates that the world population will reach 8 billion in November 2022.

The previous milestone was in 2011, when this figure reached 7 billion for the first time.

What will characterize the world population in the future?

Demography researcher Marianne Tønnessen at OsloMet and Professor Torkild H. Lyngstad at the University of Oslo have compiled the most important aspects of what we know about the world’s population in the coming decades.

World population

Every year, the world’s population increases by about 80 million.

This figure has declined somewhat in recent years and is well below that of the late 1980s, when growth exceeded 90 million people in some years.

However, annual percentage population growth was highest in the 1960s, corresponding to about 70 million people per year.

Since then, the percentage growth has declined, but the growth in real numbers remains high.

1. The world’s population will continue to grow – and rapidly

There is no indication that the number of people on Earth will stabilize in the near future.

“The world’s population continues to grow rapidly. Even though the percentage growth has decreased, population growth figures remain high,” says Tønnessen.

In percentage terms, population growth has seen a significant reduction since the late 1960s. There was much fear of a population explosion at that time.

It is difficult to say exactly when the population will stop growing.

According to the UN population projections from 2019, this will only take place towards the end of the century. By then, we will be getting closer to 11 billion people.

2. Strong growth in Africa, decline in Europe

Population growth in the years to come will be very different depending on the regions of the world.

“While the population in Africa will increase, the population of Europe will continue to decline,” Lyngstad said.

Over the past hundred years or so, Europe’s share of the world’s population has risen from a quarter to a tenth. This share is likely to continue to decline in the future.

At the same time, Africa is the continent with the fastest growing population. The UN expects Africa’s population to double in the next 40 years.

3. There are more and more elderly people – especially in Europe and East Asia

There is no doubt that population growth will be strongest among the elderly in the future.

“The population is rapidly living longer. The question is whether we have enough people to take care of the elderly population in the future,” Lyngstad said.

The UN expects the number of people over 65 to double by 2050. At the same time, the number of children and young people is not expected to increase noticeably.

Population aging will particularly affect Europe and East Asia in the future. Several countries in these areas are experiencing low fertility and population stagnation or decline.

4. Two giants will soon switch places

China has long been the most populous country in the world, but that will soon change.

“The two demographic giants, India and China, will soon swap places on the list of most populous countries,” says Tønnessen.

The age composition of these two countries is very different. While fertility is relatively high in India, it has long been a problem in China due to the old one-child policy.

“China will soon face a substantial boom of elderly people. They are at risk of getting old before they become rich, which could pose a huge challenge for them,” Tønnessen points out.

It will be interesting to see the geopolitical consequences of India as the most populous country.

“A country’s population is just one of many factors that determine its geopolitical power. But as we saw in the context of the war in Ukraine, economic power and military might are equally important” , said Lyngstad.

5. How many people can our planet support?

But what are the limits of the Earth? Will population growth stop before this limit is reached?

According to UN population projections, we will exceed 9 billion people by 2037 and 10 billion by 2056, although these figures are uncertain.

“The question of how many people can live on Earth has been asked many times and there is considerable disagreement about it,” Lyngstad said.

“Only a minority of the world’s population consumes a large part of its resources. If everyone on Earth consumed as much as rich countries, things would clearly go wrong,” says Tønnessen.

However, if the richest countries in the world consume less and find technical solutions to reduce our footprint, the Earth may be able to support more people.

“The fear that the Earth may not be able to support more people has been around for a long time, but so far we have always found solutions,” concludes Tønnessen.

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