Population growth could grind to a halt by 2050, before decreasing to as little as 6 billion humans on Earth in 2100, a new analysis of birth trends has revealed.
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The study, commissioned by the nonprofit organization The Club of Rome, predicts that if current trends continue, the world's population, which is currently 7.96 billion(opens in new tab), will peak at 8.6 billion in the middle of the century before declining by nearly 2 billion before the century's end.
"We know rapid economic development in low-income countries has a huge impact on fertility rates," Per Espen Stoknes, director of the Centre for Sustainability at Norwegian Business School and the project lead of Earth4All, said in a statement.
"Fertility rates fall as girls get access to education and women are economically empowered and have access to better healthcare."
The model predicted two possible outcomes for the future human population. The first, "business-as-usual" case in which governments continue on their current trajectories of inaction, creating ecologically fragile communities vulnerable to regional collapses would see populations rise to 9 billion people by 2050 and decline to 7.3 billion in 2100.
The second, more optimistic scenario in which governments invest in education, improved equality and green transitions would result in 8.5 billion people on the planet by the century's halfway point and 6 billion by 2100.
The team also investigated the connection between population sizes and the planet's ability to sustain human populations. They found that, contrary to popular Malthusian narratives, population size is not the key factor driving climate change.
Instead, they pinned the blame on high levels of consumption by the world's richest individuals, which they say must be reduced.
"Humanity's main problem is luxury carbon and biosphere consumption, not population," Jorgen Randers(opens in new tab), one of the modelers at the Norwegian School of Business and a member of Earth4All, said in the statement.
"The places where population is rising fastest have extremely small environmental footprints per person compared with the places that reached peak population many decades ago." ■