Population forecasts have been lowering predictions for years. Now, a new report has shown peak global population could come as early as 2040, at a much lower figure.
In November last year, the global population surpassed 8 billion. The United Nations (UN) forecasted it would take until the 2080s to reach the "peak" of population, at 10.4 billion people. A new report by the Earth4All project outlines two possible future scenarios with significantly lower estimates.
In one scenario, dubbed "Too Little Too Late," researchers argued that the world's population would reach its peak at 8.6 billion in 2050 before declining to 7 billion in 2100 if the world continues to develop economically in a similar way to the last 50 years, and many of the very poorest countries break free from extreme poverty.
In the second scenario, called the "Giant Leap," researchers estimate that the global population will peak at 8.5 billion by around 2040 and decline to around 6 billion people by the end of the century.
However, this would require "unprecedented investment" in poverty alleviation and "extraordinary policy turnarounds" on food and energy security, inequality and gender equity, with extreme poverty being eliminated in a generation.
Causes and risks
Earth4All experts argued that other population projections have often underestimated the importance of rapid economic development.
“We know rapid economic development in low-income countries has a huge impact on fertility rates. Fertility rates fall as girls get access to education and women are economically empowered and have access to better healthcare,” said Per Espen Stoknes, Earth4All project lead
However, Catherina Hinz, Director of the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, has shared her doubts about the feasibility of a population peak in 2040. "Even if we invest in the necessary areas now, it will still take time to change fertility rates around the world."
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The scenarios predicted by Earth4All would make it easier to tackle the many environmental crises faced by society today, however, experts showed that it are the world's richest that are destabilising the planet, not population size, as places where the population is rising fastest have extremely small environmental footprints per person.
Finally, the serious drop in global population could lead to serious problems with pensions and healthcare if governments don't do more to prepare and invest in education and health, experts warned.