Global population could fall to six billion with 'unprecedented investment' in tackling poverty, researchers say
The global population could fall to six billion by the end of the century if there is "unprecedented investment" in tackling poverty and inequality, researchers have said.
In a report assessing how different policies would have an impact across the world, the population could peak at 8.5 billion in 2040 before declining by 2100 - but only if "extreme poverty is eliminated" alongside the adoption of "successful policies for economic development".
On current economic trends, the experts said the population could peak at 8.6 billion in 2050 before dropping back to 7 billion in 2100.
Experts said economic development is associated to a fall in fertility rates because it improves access to education and health services.
The study was commissioned by the Club Of Rome, a non-profit organisation which addresses "the multiple crises facing humanity and the planet" - but its figures are in contrast to UN forecasts which show the population reaching 9.7 billion in 2050 and peaking at 10.4 billion in the 2080s.
The researchers used a modelling system, Earth4All, to explore the two potential outcomes for this century.
One scenario, called "the Giant Leap", saw the population dip to six billion only if there was specific investment in education and health "along with extraordinary policy turnarounds on food and energy security, inequality and gender equity".
Per Espen Stoknes, Earth4All project lead and director of the Centre for Sustainability at Norwegian Business School, said: "We know rapid economic development in low-income countries has a huge impact on fertility rates.
"Fertility rates fall as girls get access to education and women are economically empowered and have access to better healthcare."
Although a lower population is said to be better for the environment, the researchers also found the size of a population is "not the prime driver" behind climate change.
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The experts said it is "extremely high material footprint levels" among the world's richest 10% which is "destabilising" the planet.
"Humanity's main problem is luxury carbon and biosphere consumption, not population," said Jorgen Randers, one of the leading modellers for Earth4All.
"A good life for all is only possible if the extreme resource use of the wealthy elite is reduced."