Rhein on Energy and Climate

On June 13 2013 the UN Population Division has published a major upward revision of its 2050 and 2100 population projections. This has gone widely unnoticed in Europe, though it will have a big impact on Europe if history will confirm it.

Until 2050 global population is now projected to reach 9.6 billion, 2.4 billion more than present world population, and in 2100 the UN expects global population to attain close to 11 billion people, an increase of some four billion during the next 86 years. In historic terms, these are incredible figures: it has taken humanity 50 000 years to reach a total population of one billion!

The driving forces behind this projected trend are the slower than expected decline of female fertility, significant victories over HIV/AIDS and infant mortality and a further increase of life expectancy.

A global population of some 11 billion by the end of the century will create immense problems for humanity in terms of nutrition, energy, land and water resources, pollution, climate change and, last not least, peace.

It will be an over-crowded, unpleasant planet; living conditions of our grandchildren are much more likely to deteriorate than to improve.

Humanity has therefore a common interest in slowing down global population growth as much as possible.

Population policy and family planning are far from dominating the international discourse or strategies of developing and donor countries. Unfortunately they are the domain of a few, mostly American, foundations.

Muslim and Christian religious leaders bear an undeniable responsibility for the demographic explosion and its negative impact on the well-being in poverty-stricken African and Latin American countries.

China’s one child-family policy during the last 30 years has been the precondition for its ultra-rapid economic development, even if the methods applied have been anything but soft.

Europe should be most worried by the developments projected for Africa. Africa will experience a demographic explosion. Its population is set to quadruple until the end of the century, from about one billion today to four billion in 2100, most of it in poor Sub-Sahara countries, where women are expected to have five children for many years to come.

Nigeria is likely to end up with more than 300 million people, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda, Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo are expected to reach more than 200 million people by the end of the century, 3-20 times increases in one century!

Ultra-rapid demographic growth is a major cause of failing states lacking good governance. No wonder that Africa hosts more failing states than any other continent.

Rapid demographic growth poses four big challenges to African societies:

  1. where to find productive employment for rising numbers of youngsters;
  2. how to finance teachers, schools, hospitals, electricity, housing, transport facilities, urban infrastructure;
  3. how to feed rising numbers of people;
  4. how to contain environmental damage.

These challenges exceed the capacity of most African governments. They will turn to international donors, which will become increasingly reticent to spend taxpayers` money without seeing long-term improvements of the living conditions.

It is therefore high time for African political leaders to tackle their rapid population growth and do so jointly with major donors.

African population growth must be back to the international agenda. The 2014 meeting of EU and African leaders in Brussels would be an ideal opportunity for an intensive exchange of views.

It is, of course, not up to the EU to tell its African neighbours how to slow down their rapid population growth. Still, the EU cannot be indifferent to the consequences of rapid population growth neutralising its economic assistance and inducing rising numbers of Africans to migrate to Europe.

That is why African governments should commit to effective family planning and cooperate with competent NGOs for the provision of sexual education and large-scale distribution of modern means of contraception.

The EU should focus its financial assistance much more on family planning until population growth will have slowed down substantially.

Both sides should regularly monitor the results of their policies, find inspiration from successful demographic policies in other parts of the earth and invite religious leaders to help them in the endeavours to slow population growth.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 20/11/2013


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