The global population is growing: available resources are not

19-07-2022 | News

The world population will stabilize in the second half of the century. But the demand for resources is increasing at an unsustainable pace today. With the risk of a widening of inequalities.

Popolazione in aumento

By the end of 2022, the world population will reach 8 billion. They are the new forecasts of the United Nations in the study World Population Prospects 2022 recently published, which confirms the dizzying growth of these decades, but substantially revises the estimates for the second half of the century. The 2019 projection predicted that the world population would stabilize around 11 billion by 2100. Instead, the new calculation predicts a stabilization of around 10.4 billion as early as the 1980s, because fertility rates are falling faster than expected. 

As Donato Speroni writes on the ASviS website, the demographic dynamics will, however, tend to accentuate inequalities between nations, because it is profoundly different in the various areas. Faced with an aging population in the North of the world, there are countries, especially in Africa but also in Asia, which continue to grow. 

More than half of the population increase will come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, India (which will exceed the population of China as early as next year), Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines and Tanzania. «High fertility rates do not reconcile with the fight against poverty, because the increase in the gross domestic product is divided between a greater number of mouths to be fed », writes Speroni. "As noted by theEconomist, in Angola, where the population has grown by 3% per year since the 1970s, the amount of people in extreme poverty, earning less than $ 1.90 a day, has more than doubled from 2008 to 2018 ”. 

Is it really possible, Speroni wonders, to guarantee a "decent" life for a population of over ten billion people? The past provides us with some positive elements. From 1990 to 2019, life expectancy at birth rose by nine years to one average of 72.8 years. The fall in female fertility, from an average of five children in the 1950s to 2.3 children in 2021, with a trend towards the equilibrium rate of 2.1, is also due to to the abatement of infant mortality (in some countries the high birth rate was a sort of assurance that someone would survive and take care of their parents who had become elderly), but above all it is due to the increase in schooling of women, with a decline in child marriages and a wider spread of contraceptive practices. With modern agricultural techniques, even the feeding of such a large population should not be a problem, from the point of view of quantities, but rather of logistics. 

However, many pitfalls threaten the future of humanity: Speroni recalls, for example, the forecasts already contained fifty years ago in the bestseller The limits of development, the study promoted by the Club of Rome, which predicted a decline in the world population more or less from the middle of this century. Epidemics and wars are unknowns that were underestimated, but a serious threat in the future will come from climate change, that will make inhospitable vast lands forcing the populations to emigrate. 

These are huge challenges that cannot be addressed without a clear strengthening of the capacities of governance international. However, the world is moving in the opposite direction. A report of the New York Times has taken stock of the situation in various countries and a perspective emerges of a world again divided into opposing blocks, of a return of ideological schemes in which to divide according to convenience good and evil, friends and enemies, of the end of international cooperation and of the always weaker possibility that supranational entities (the UN above all) are able to stem, regulate, put an end to conflicts. And this picture could have dramatic consequences. 

According to the IEA, for example, theincrease in energy costs it left 90 million more people without access to electricity. The rise in food prices, the worsening of living conditions, the risk of famine are, in cascade, subsequent effects of the increase in the cost of energy. The increase in transport costs generates a tremendous increase in the price of all goods that travel by road, sea or air become more expensive, whether it be a pair of shoes, a mobile phone, a football or a medicine.

For Speroni, «Inflation and the threat of recession they also make international solidarity more difficult, because every country, even the richest, is oriented towards safeguarding the domestic population first of all ”. Also in Italy there are significant elements of fragility, and a significant part of the Italian population is now in conditions of poverty or risk falling into it. 

A recent report from Istat highlighted the recovery in employment after the pandemic, but also the profound inequalities in the forms of pay. The spread of non-standard forms of work has contributed to a worsening of overall quality of employment, also leading to lower average salary levels. The combination of low hourly wages and short-term, intense employment contracts results in significantly reduced annual pay levels.

According to Censis, the distribution of income within dependent work “has become further polarized, with a growing share of workers earning a earned income below the threshold for enjoying citizenship income. The 23% of workers earn less than 780 euros / month, also considering part-time workers. On the other hand, the 1% of the best paid workers saw a further increase of one percentage point in their share of the total wage bill "(from 6.5% to 7.5% for the private sector). From 1990 to today, Italy is the only OECD country in which average gross annual salaries have decreased, registering a decrease of 2.9% in real terms compared to the + 276.3% of Lithuania, the first country in the ranking and the + 33.7% in Germany and the + 31.1% in France. 

Such a large swath of people in absolute poverty and of working poors it is evidently very exposed to threats of inflation, which focuses mainly on essential goods for the groups with lower income, such as food and fuel. 

The war, the pandemic, the climate crisis with the consequent drought, inflation put the whole world in front of a new situation, which three years ago we would not have even imagined. The ways out, writes Speroni again, are only two: either "save whoever can", which however does not solve anything, because in the face of global threats no one can think of getting by on their own. Or one resumption of multilateralism, rediscover the threads of dialogue and peace, with a realistic solution for Ukraine, orient collective choices along two lines: the commitment to reduce inequalities and the fight against the climate crisis. 

Social sustainability and environmental sustainability, concludes the representative of the ASviS are the cornerstones of the 2030 Agenda, which even in these difficult times remains the only compass for reconstituting international collaboration for sustainable development. It is certainly a difficult path in these times, but the alternative is a progressive deterioration of the conditions of humanity in the coming decades. 

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