Preparing the world for important population changes

In 2015, the world will adopt a new set of goals, guiding the efforts to achieve a more sustainable and fairer world where no-one is left behind. In designing and implementing the post-2015 agenda, it is important to understand and account for demographic changes that are likely to unfold in the future.

On 13-17 April, the 48th session of the Commission on Population and Development will take place with the task of identifying a set of key actions that will enable population issues to be integrated into this new sustainable development agenda.

Over the next fifteen years, the world population is expected to increase by 1.1 billion so that by 2030, the global economy will need to support approximately 8.4 billion people.

“Globally, two billion babies will be born, each requiring health care services. More than two billion children will reach school age, each needing access to high quality education,” explained Mr. John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division.

Large regional variations

These large scale population dynamics mask large regional variations. While almost all regions are projected to grow by at least 10 percent over the next 15 years, Africa will account for more than 40 per cent of the global increase in population, while Europe can expect a slight decrease in population.

“Globally, two billion babies will be born, each requiring health care services. More than two billion children will reach school age, each needing access to high quality education”

John Wilmoth
Director of UN DESA’s Population Division

In addition, the world’s different regions have varying capabilities in managing an increasing population. An increasing number of births pose particularly significant challenges for low-income countries where poverty and malnutrition rates are already high, levels of education low, healthcare systems weak and where the rates of infant and child mortality are high. In addition, two billion children will turn age 5 and will require access to education.

Preparing education and jobs for growing youth population

Beyond all the two billion newborns who will see the light of day during the coming fifteen years, and the two billion children who will turn five, more than 1.2 billion young people will transit into adulthood and begin looking for a job. Most of the increase is concentrated in African countries such as Burundi, Mali, and Niger. However, there are also large regional differences, for example in Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of young people will decline, in some cases significantly.

A growing young generation presents a major promise for economic development, technological innovation and social change. At the same time, it can also pose possible challenges when it comes to for example adolescent pregnancies, drug abuse, school dropouts and trafficking. What determines the outcome is often the opportunities that have been offered to these children in the younger age, in the form of education and skills training that makes them competitive in today’s global marketplace.

Taking care of an ageing population

Rapid growth in the number of older persons is expected over the next fifteen years across all areas of the world. Nearly half of all the older persons do not receive any form of pension and for many who do, the level of support is inadequate. In several high-income countries, benefit levels have been reduced.

“One thing that all countries have in common is the need to plan for population ageing. People aged sixty and older are now the world fastest growing age group,” Mr. Wilmoth explained.

Urban areas continue to grow

The 1.1 billion increase in global population over the next fifteen years is expected to occur in urban areas. Africa and Asia are projected to have the largest increases in urban populations so that the number of urban areas, as well as their absolute size will continue to grow.

While the growth of already very big cities poses risks, as uncontrolled expansion of urban areas, environmental degradation and heightened risk for natural hazards as floods and landslides, the density of population also opens up the possibility for lower costs per capita in providing infrastructure and basic services.

“[Ongoing population change] puts [cities] on the front line when it comes to eliminating poverty, reducing pollution, and ensuring access to safe water and essential services,” explained Mr. Wilmoth. “Governments must ensure that urban expansion takes place in a sustainable and inclusive manner.”

Commission on Population and Development convenes for 48th session

The world will need to confront many major challenges in the years ahead if it is to achieve sustainable development in the social, economic and environmental spheres. Through motivated and proactive work, like the upcoming Commission on Population and Development, the possibility of achieving these goals has never been greater.

“Through a deeper understanding of how the world is changing, combined with better planning, stronger partnerships, and greater political will, we can create a better tomorrow for both people and planet,” said Mr. Wilmoth, as his division continues to prepare for the upcoming commission taking place at UN Headquarters in New York.

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