Population challenges in 2015 forecast

Posted: 11 January 2001

The combination of population growth and mushrooming cities will have a destabilising effect in some countries over the next 15 years, according to the latest report on Global Trends 2015, published by the US National Intelligence Council

While urbanisation will provide many countries with a chance to tap into the information revolution and other technological advances, the report says that "the explosive growth of cities in developing countries will test the capacity of governments to stimulate the investment required to generate jobs and to provide the services infrastructure and social supports necessary to sustain liveable and stable environments."

The report, which looks at major trends which will shape the world in 2015, says that the world will be populated by some 7.2 billion people by that date - up from 6.1 billion in 2000. However, the annual rate of population growth will have fallen from 1.7 per cent in 1985, to 1.3 per cent today, and to about one per cent in 2015.

While 95 per cent of the increase in population will take place in developing countries, the widespread increases in lifespan will have different impacts in different places.

In 'advanced economies' - and a growing number of emerging market economies - declining birth-rates and ageing will combine to increase health care and pension costs while reducing the relative size of the working population and the availability of labour. In some developing countries the same trends will expand the work force, and reduce the youth bulge - increasing the potential for economic growth and political stability.

Some of the biggest increases in population will take place in South Asia. India, for example will see its population grow from one billion to more than 1.2 billion by 2015, while Pakistan's will probably swell from 140 million to about 195 million.

Some countries in Africa, with high rates of AIDS, will experience reduced rates of population growth despite high birth-rates. Some may even see a decline in population. South Africa, it says, is projected to see a drop in numbers from 43.4 million in 2000 to 38.7 million in 2015,.

North America, Australia and New Zealand - traditional magnets for migrants - will continue to have the highest rates of population growth among developed countries, of between 0.7 and 1 per cent a year.

The report forecasts "a dramatic increase in global movement of people through 2015" with millions moving every year, especially into North America and Europe. "Legal and illegal migrants now account for more than 15 per cent of the population in more than 50 countries. These numbers will grow substantially and will increase social and political tension and perhaps alter national identities even as they contribute to demographic and economic dynamism," it says.

The report forecasts that overall food production will be enough to feed the world's growing population, but poor infrastructure, political instability and chronic poverty will lead to persistent malnourishment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

It believes that despite a 50 per cent increase in global energy demand, there will be enough energy resources to go around. It points out that, according to latest estimates, 80 per cent of the world's available oil and 95 per cent of its gas remain underground.

In contrast, it says water scarcity will pose a special challenge to governments in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and northern China and that regional tensions over water will be heightened by 2015.

Read the full report.