Solving many of the world’s biggest environmental challenges may have just gotten more difficult.
In June the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat released revised global population data. The midline estimate — more than 10.8 billion by 2100 — is 800 million higher than the 2010 prediction.
A combination of factors is driving the number higher, including upward trending fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia and an increase in life expectancy at birth across much of the world.
A deeper dive into the data yields a number of surprising discoveries. India’s population is expected to pass that of China’s around 2028, making it the most populous country in the world. Nigeria is predicted to pass the U.S. in population by 2050 and may rival China for the second most populous country in the world by century’s end. And by 2100 the list of countries with populations exceeding 200 million could grow to include Indonesia, the United Republic of Tanzania, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Uganda and Niger.
Today’s rural-to-urban migration will continue in full force, with upwards of 84 percent of the planet living in cities at the close of the century (compared to 52 percent today).
While 10.8 billion is the midpoint projection for the global population by 2100, the report notes that the actual number could be as low as 6.8 billion or as high as 16.6 billion.
Of course population isn’t the only factor contributing to humans’ planetary impact. Consumption may be equally important when looking at the drivers of environmental change across the Earth. Nevertheless, population will continue to be a major consideration as we work to address issues ranging from energy and food security to water availability, species loss, pollution, urban planning and more in the decades ahead.