Climate justice becomes more difficult as the world’s population passes 8 billion

Pressure on resources will be especially daunting in African countries, where populations are expected to grow.


Police scramble to control the crowd as stranded Bangladeshi workers gather outside the Biman Bangladesh Airlines office demanding plane tickets to go back to Saudi Arabia, in Dhaka. (Photo: Reuters)

By Reuters: The world’s population passed 8 billion on Tuesday, the United Nations said, warning that further hardships lie ahead for regions already facing resource scarcity due to climate change.

Whether it’s food or water, batteries or gasoline, there will be less to go around as the world’s population will add another 2.4 billion people by the 2080s, according to UN projections.

“Everyone needs fuel, wood, water and a place to call home,” said Stephanie Feldstein, director of population and sustainability at the Center for Biological Diversity.

Pressure on resources will be especially daunting in African countries, where populations are expected to grow, experts say. These are also the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts and most in need of climate finance.

According to the Institute for Economics and Peace, the population of sub-Saharan Africa, where some 738 million people already live without adequate food, will grow by 95% by the middle of the century. The think tank warned in an October report that much of sub-Saharan Africa will be unsustainable by the middle of the century.

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Globally, the 8 billion population milestone represents 1 billion people added to the planet in the past 11 years.

Reaching 8 billion people is “a sign of human success, but it is also a great risk to our future,” said John Wilmoth, director of the UN’s population department.

Middle-income countries, mainly in Asia, accounted for most of that growth, adding some 700 million people as of 2011. India added about 180 million people and will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation next year.

However, the number of births has been steadily declining in the United States, Europe and Japan. China, too, has struggled with the legacy of its one-child policy program, and last year urged families to have second and even third children as it also restricted access to non-medical abortions.

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Even as the world’s population continues to reach new highs, demographers note that the growth rate has steadily declined to less than 1% per year. This should prevent the world from reaching 9 billion people by 2037. The population of the UN projects will peak at about 10.4 billion people in the 2080s and remain at that level until 2100.

“A big part of this story is that this era of rapid population growth that the world has known for centuries is coming to an end,” Wilmoth said.


Most of the 2.4 billion people that will be added before the world’s population peaks will be born in sub-Saharan Africa, marking a shift away from China and India.

“African cities will grow on average,” said Deborah Balk, a demographic researcher at the City University of New York. This will expose millions more city dwellers to climate threats such as rising seas.

Around the world, “the coastal zone is disproportionately urban,” she said. “About one in ten people live in the low-lying coastal zone.”

The Nigerian coastal city of Lagos, for example, is expected to become the largest city in the world by the end of the century.

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Rapid population growth coupled with climate change is likely to drive mass migration and conflict in the coming decades, experts say.

And having more people on the planet puts more pressure on wildlife, as humans compete with wildlife for water, food and space. But how much they consume is just as important, suggesting that policymakers can make a big difference by mandating a shift in consumption patterns.

The carbon emissions of the richest 1 percent, or about 63 million people, were more than double the emissions of the poorest half of humanity between 1990 and 2015, according to a 2020 analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute and nonprofit Oxfam International. .

Humanity’s impact on the natural world “has more to do with how we behave than how much we are,” Wilmoth said.

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