The world’s population will hit 8 billion people on Tuesday, marking a “human development milestone” before birth rates slow, according to a United Nations forecast.
In a statement, the UN said the figure meant that in just 12 years, 1 billion people had joined the world’s population.
“This unprecedented growth is due to the gradual increase in human life expectancy due to improvements in public health, nutrition, personal hygiene and medicine. It is also the result of high and persistent fertility levels in some countries,” the UN statement said.
Middle-income countries, mainly in Asia, accounted for most of the growth over the past decade, adding around 700 million people since 2011. India has gained about 180 million people and will overtake China as the world’s most populous nation next year.
But even as world population hits new highs, demographers are finding that the growth rate has steadily declined to less than 1% per year. This should prevent the world from reaching 9 billion people by 2037. The UN predicts that world population will peak in the 2080s at about 10.4 billion people and remain at that level through 2100.
Most of the 2.4 billion people who will be added before world population peaks will be born in sub-Saharan Africa, a move away from China and India, according to the UN.
Reaching a world population of 8 billion “is an opportunity to celebrate diversity and progress while recognizing humanity’s shared responsibility for the planet,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in the UN statement.
Having more people on Earth puts more pressure on nature as humans compete with wildlife for water, food and space. Meanwhile, rapid population growth combined with climate change is also likely to lead to mass migration and conflict in the coming decades, experts say.
And whether it’s food or water, batteries or petrol: as the world population grows, there will be less. But how much they consume is just as important, suggesting that policymakers can make a big difference by mandating a change in consumption patterns.
According to a 2020 analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute and the nonprofit Oxfam International, between 1990 and 2015, the carbon emissions of the richest 1%, or about 63 million people, were more than double those of the poorest half of humanity.
Resource pressures will be particularly worrying in African countries where population booms are expected, experts say. These are also among the countries most vulnerable to climate impacts and most in need of climate finance.