The Implications of Rapid Population Growth: Faculty Insight into the World Population Exceeding 8 Billion

Aerial view of a densely populated area of Hong Kong

The United Nations recently announced that the world population has exceeded 8 billion, meaning that 1 billion people have been added to the global population in just 12 years. We spoke with Sungsoo Chun, professor at AUC's Institute of Global Health and Human Ecology, about this milestone, the challenges it poses and its impact on our climate future.

What caused the population rate to skyrocket in the last 12 years?

The countries with the highest population growth since the 1980s have been lower- and middle-income countries. After the world population reached 7 billion around 2010, the populations of low-income countries increased rapidly, and the populations of middle-income countries stayed high. This rapid growth is due to health support programs in low-income countries, along with the improvement in nutritional status and health services for these populations. These programs have significantly reduced the mortality rate of entire populations, including infant mortality. On the other hand, fertility rates remain high, contributing significantly to population growth.

Sungsoo Chun
Sungsoo Chun

Is the growth rate slowing? What should we expect the global population to be 10 years from now?

Considering that the population percentage of lower- and middle-income countries accounts for 52% of the world’s population and that the population of high- and upper-middle-income countries is still increasing, population growth over the next 10 years is expected to increase at the same rate as the past 12 years. Although the rate of increase in population is gradually decreasing, it is still expected that the world population will exceed 9 billion in about 10 years.

What is the growth rate in countries like Egypt compared to the global population growth rate?

As of 2021, Egypt's population growth rate is 1.86, which is significantly higher than the average rate of lower- and middle-income countries of 1.34, and higher than the average rate of 1.71 across the MENA region. Looking at this indicator, it seems that for the time being, Egypt's population size has continued to show a rapid growth trend, as it has for the past decade or so. Considering that the population of Egypt as of 2021 was about 104 million and the current population growth rate, the population is expected to exceed 120 million after 10 years.

What are the economic, climate-related and sociological challenges posed by this growth rate?

Population growth is an essential factor in overall economic growth. The relationship between population growth and economic growth is controversial. Low population growth in high-income countries is likely to create social and economic problems, while high population growth in low-income countries may slow their development. In low-income countries, rapid population growth is likely to be detrimental in the short and medium term because it leads to large numbers of dependent children. In the longer run, this population can boost the economy as these young people become productive adults. 

But rather than looking at the problems caused by population growth by country, it’s better to approach the issue from the perspective of how many people the Earth can support. Earth's carrying capacity is a critical variable that can determine the future of humankind. There is no disagreement that about 10 to 12 billion people are the limit of the Earth's population support. But it is estimated that the population will exceed 10 billion by 2060, reaching 12 billion by 2100. 

What do you predict some of the policy outcomes of this growth rate will be globally?

Population policy is an integrated policy, considering health, economic and social structures, immigration, culture and the environment. Population policy can’t just serve one nation, but the globe. Over the last few decades, population policies were mainly developed case by case for each country's needs. Now we recognize that the population issue isn’t a problem within a single country but a global issue, and we expect population policies to be established globally, taking into account the capacity Earth has to support population growth.

What do you see as the best course of action?

Since the impacts of population policy aren’t felt for a long period of time, it’s essential to unify our global policymaking by taking future projections into account. Beyond religious, cultural, social and economic perspectives, integrated policies to save the entire Earth must be discussed and practiced