Sustainability Blog

33 in 22 on 11 – World Population Day

By Apurva Gosalia - Jul 12, 2022

Yesterday, July 11, 2022, was the 33rd World Population Day (WPD)! The theme of this year’s WPD is “A World of 8 billion: Towards a resilient future for all – Harnessing opportunities and ensuring rights and choices for all.” 

What is the connection between WPD and sustainability? Climate change is one of humanity’s most critical challenges. The warming of the planet threatens food security, freshwater supplies and human health. While there is almost unanimous scientific consensus over the link between human action and the planet warming, the links between population growth and climate change deserve further exploration.

With 2 billion people to be added to our human ranks by 2050, and 1 billion more by 2100, demographic trends and variables play an important role in understanding and confronting the world’s climate crisis. Population growth, along with increasing consumption, tends to increase the emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Rapid population growth worsens the impacts of climate change by putting strain on overstretched resources and exposing more people to climate-related risks ­– especially in low-resource regions.

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People have been reluctant to integrate discussions of population growth into climate education and advocacy. Yet climate change is tightly linked to population growth. As the U.K.-based charity Population Matters summarizes: “Every additional person increases carbon emissions – the rich far more than the poor – and increases the number of climate change victims – the poor far more than the rich.” 

>Read more about the UN and sustainability here.

For example, just over 4% of the global population live in the United States. Yet they account for 17% of the world’s energy use. Per-person carbon emissions are among the highest in the world. People living in the U.S., Canada and Australia have carbon footprints close to 200 times greater than people in some of the poorest and fastest-growing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as Chad, Niger and the Central African Republic.

Between them are the middle-income economies that are home to 75% of the world’s population. Here, industrialization will increase living standards and consumption patterns over the coming decades. But without changes to how economies tend to grow, carbon emissions will rise.

Different population projections on future economic growth and energy use show that slowing population growth can significantly reduce future greenhouse gas emissions. Incorporating various population projections into climate models shows higher population growth results in higher emissions. However, slowing global population growth through rights-based measures, such as by increasing access to voluntary family planning services, could contribute over a quarter of the emissions reductions needed by 2050 to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change.

The links between population growth and climate vulnerability are visible around the world. Nine out of the 10-most climate vulnerable countries are in sub-Saharan Africa, a region where the population could double.

Rapid population growth poses grave challenges for the environment and economic development. Unabating population growth undermines food security, the ability to alleviate poverty, conserving natural resources and human health. 

Adding the impacts of climate change and rapid population growth on regions already dealing with wealth and gender inequality presents a humanitarian problem that will only worsen if left unaddressed.

WPD was first suggested by Dr K. C. Zachariah, who was at the time a senior demographer at the World Bank. The day was officially established by the Governing Council of the UN Development Program in 1989. It was an outgrowth of the interest generated by the Day of Five Billion on July 11, 1987. WPD was first marked on July 11, 1990, and then December that year, the UN General Assembly decided to make it yearly to raise awareness of population issues and their connection to the environment and development. Nowadays, people in more than 90 countries celebrate WPD annually.

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