The United Nations has revised upwards its forecasts for population growth, with serious and far-reaching consequences for the environment, key resource availability and sustainability.

The still increasing forecast is significant when the development community, including Canada, is trying to address food shortages, continuing global hunger and the challenge of how to lessen poverty without further environmental degradation, not least climate change.

Human numbers, currently 7.2 billion, are now projected to reach 8.1 billion by 2025, 9.6 billion by 2050, and almost 11 billion by 2100. Growth is due to people living longer, large youth numbers and sustained higher than replacement birth rates in several countries and regions, including much of Africa, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Mexico and the Philippines.

Alarmingly, population in 49 of the world’s least developed countries is now projected to double. The UN’s upwards forecast is explained by new information on fertility rates, improved methodology and changes to projected fertility and life expectancy rates.

Importantly, fertility rates vary widely. Half of the world’s population live in countries, like Canada, where fertility rates are at replacement or below, proving it can be done. Moreover, even small changes in fertility rates over coming decades, and particularly in the developing world, can have a significant impact on future population levels and improved standards of living. Canadian aid could and should help to make this happen.

Commented Clifford Garrard, VP/Executive Director, PIC: “This is a further wake up call, a reminder that population dynamics, particularly fertility rates, is central to the issue of sustainable development. Action to reduce birth rates will pay handsome dividends in maintaining and improving living standards within the world’s resource limits. We – Canada included – must redouble efforts globally to enhance access to family planning, to improve women’s social and economic equality through education – even minimal – and to promote the personal and social benefits of smaller families. Two will do, but one is best”