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We must help the Earth to support its eight billion inhabitants

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We must help the Earth to support its eight billion inhabitants

On 15 November, the world population exceeded eight billion inhabitants, according to the official estimate of the United Nations, according to which it is “an important step in human development” and a reminder, in full COP27, of “our shared responsibility to take care of the our planet”.

For the UN, “this unprecedented growth” – there were 2.5 billion inhabitants in 1950 – is the result “of an extension of life thanks to the progress made in terms of public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine ”.

But population growth also poses serious challenges to poorer countries, where it is most concentrated. Although the Earth had fewer than a billion people until 1800, it took only 12 years to grow from seven to eight billion. But a sign of its demographic slowdown is that it will take about fifteen years to reach nine billion in 2037. The UN forecasts a peak of 10.4 billion in 2080 and stagnation until the end of the century.

The ceiling of eight billion was breached in the midst of the world climate conference, Cop 27 underway in Sharm el Sheikh, which once again underlines the difficulty of finding an agreement between the rich countries – the main culprits of global warming – and developing countries – which are asking for aid to deal with it – to lower greenhouse gas emissions produced by human activities more decisively.

Bigger challenges
As the UN recalls, “if demographic growth amplifies the environmental impact of economic development”, “the countries where the consumption of material resources and greenhouse gas emissions per inhabitant are higher are generally those where the income per inhabitant it is the highest and not those where the population increases rapidly”.

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“Our impact on the planet is determined more by our behavior than by our numbers,” summarizes Jennifer Sciubba, a researcher at the Wilson Center. And it is precisely in countries where poverty is already high that population growth poses the greatest challenges. “The high fertility rates which are the basis of rapid population growth are both a symptom and a cause of the slow progress in the field of development”, writes the UN.

India, a country of 1.4 billion people, which will become the most populous in the world in 2023, overtaking China, will face an explosion of its urban population in the coming decades in already overpopulated megacities with little essential infrastructure. In Mumbai about 40 percent of the population lives in slums, overcrowded and for the most part without drinking water, electricity and sanitation.

World figures mask a huge gap in population growth. More than half of the increase up to 2050 will be recorded in just eight countries according to the UN: Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Tanzania. And by the end of the century, the three most populated cities in the world will be African: Lagos in Nigeria, Kinshasa in the DRC and Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania.

(Translation by Thomas Lemaire)

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