Monday was World Population Day. In his message to mark the day and the release of the United Nations latest World Population Prospects report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that “it is a reminder of our shared responsibility to care for our planet and a moment to reflect on where we still fall short of our commitments to one another”.
In the report, the UN anticipated that despite growing at its slowest rate since the 1950s, the world’s population will hit 8 billion in November, and peak at around 10.4 billion during the 2080s.
Notably, countries in sub-Saharan Africa are expected to contribute more than half of the increase through 2050, while the populations of 61 countries, mostly mid- and high-income ones, are expected to decrease by at least 1 percent over the next three decades as a result of sustained low birth rates.
That means the demographic structure of the world will become more polarized and uneven in the foreseeable future, which will make the development gap between the developed and developing world a more prominent challenge.
Without a fairer distribution of wealth and development opportunities, the rapid growth of the population in less-developed countries will make eradicating poverty, combatting hunger and malnutrition, and increasing the coverage of health and education systems more difficult.
True, “eight billion people means eight billion opportunities to live dignified and fulfilled lives”, as Guterres said. But that entails countries, especially the less-developed ones, investing more in the further development of their human capital by ensuring access to healthcare and quality education at all ages, and by promoting opportunities for productive employment and decent work.
Yet that cannot be realized without international solidarity and cooperation to improve global governance and help the less-developed countries to deal with the common challenges that can generally be attributed to the developed countries consuming more, emitting more and wasting more.
Although the efficiency with which humankind can produce food, mine minerals, make goods and communicate have increased exponentially over recent decades, that has largely benefited the developed countries and further strengthened their capacity to exploit the rest. That model and trend explains why, despite the advancement of technology, the world’s hungry population has not declined and remains at a level of about 800 million, and the population living in abject poverty is still about 700 million, or 9.2 percent of the global population.
That it took about 15 years, from 1960 to 1975, for the world population to swell from 3 billion to 4 billion, and only about 11 years, from 2011 to 2022, to surge from 7 billion to 8 billion, speaks volumes of the progress of human society, as well as the urgency to make its development fairer and more balanced.
Editorial, China Daily