The global population reached 8 billion people on Tuesday, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which cited major improvements in public health as lowering the risk of dying and increasing life expectancy. The milestone, the U.N. body stressed, necessitated humanity as a whole to come together and ensure the most vulnerable are protected.
“Unless we bridge the yawning chasm between the global haves and have-nots, we are setting ourselves up for an 8-billion-strong world filled with tensions and mistrust, crisis and conflict,” said U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. “A world of 8 billion is a milestone for humanity—the result of longer lifespans, reductions in poverty, and declining maternal and childhood mortality,” added UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem.
“Yet, focusing on numbers alone distracts us from the real challenge we face: securing a world in which progress can be enjoyed equally and sustainably,” she said, noting that differing demographics—the median age in Europe is 41, while its 17 in sub-Saharan Africa—meant that “one-size-fits-all solutions” were no longer applicable.
Noting that current projections estimated the global population to continue growing to 10.4 billion through the 2080s, the UNFPA said the overall growth rate had started to decline. “The world is more demographically diverse than ever before, with countries facing starkly different population trends ranging from growth to decline,” it said, stressing that two-thirds of the global population lived in a “low fertility context,” with lifetime fertility below 2.1 births per woman. “At the same time, population growth has become increasingly concentrated among the world’s poorest countries, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa,” it said, stressing all countries must be equipped to provide a good quality of life for their populations and lift up their most marginalized people.
The U.N. body also warned that achieving the milestone called for an examination of links between population growth, poverty, climate change and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. “Rapid population growth makes eradicating poverty, combatting hunger and malnutrition, and increasing the coverage of health and education systems more difficult,” it said, adding that achieving the SDGs, especially those related to health, education and gender equality, would lead to a reduction in the global population growth.
At the same time, it said, even though slower population growth could help mitigate environmental degradation, it was undeniable that countries with the highest consumption and emissions rates already had slow or even negative growth rates. “We must accelerate our efforts to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement as well as achieve the SDGs,” said Li Junhua, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs. “We need a rapid decoupling of economic activity from the current over-reliance on fossil-fuel energy, as well as greater efficiency in the use of those resources, and we need to make this a just and inclusive transition that supports those left furthest behind,” he added.
In stark numbers, it took about 12 years for the world population to grow from 7 to 8 billion, with the U.N. estimating the next billion would take approximately 14.5 years. It said around 70 percent of the billion people added were from low-income and lower-middle-income countries, with estimates that these states would account for over 90 percent of growth in the increase from 8 to 9 billion.
A day prior to the world reaching the 8 billion milestone, the UNFPA said population in Pakistan was growing at an average annual rate of 1.9 percent, with nearly 3.6 children born to each Pakistani woman on average. It also reiterated that Pakistan was among eight countries—with DR Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, the Philippines and Tanzania—where more than half of the increase in global population leading up to 2050 would be concentrated.
“The power of choice can move demographic and development indicators naturally in the right direction,” said UNFPA Representative in Pakistan Dr. Luay Shabaneh. “Rights-based family planning campaign that involves service, advocacy, and social norm components can change the scene to show economic development in terms of levels of welfare and ensure gifted natural resources to sustain for a longer time,” he added.