Rome Club Report 2018, Chapter 1.7, Unsustainable Population Growth and Urbanization

Original author: Prof. Ernst von Weizsäcker and Dr. Anders Wijkman
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Figure 1.14 in Chapter 1.10 has two dashed lines. The upper one is “the world biocapacity for 1961”, i.e. The permissible ecological footprint per capita in the world is 3.1 billion people. Bottom line - biocapacity for 2012 with a population of 7 billion people. The situation would have been much more comfortable if the population of the Earth 50 years ago had stabilized at a level below 3.5 billion. However, the majority of demographers are sure that stabilization will not occur earlier than the second half of the current century, and then the number of inhabitants of the planet will exceed 10 billion. Considering the topic of sustainable development, it is simply impossible not to touch on the issue of the population of the Earth, which is politically extremely sensitive.

1.7.1 Population Dynamics

In the 19th century, industrialized countries experienced steep population growth, but solved their national overpopulation problems by conquering other parts of the world, especially America, Africa, and Australia, allowing large numbers of people to migrate there. Thus, for these countries, the question of convincing developing countries to stop their growth is a politically impracticable undertaking.

However, for the developing countries themselves, it is reasonable and productive to reflect on the ways and measures to reach the course of sustainability of the population. The United Nations Population Fund has published the results of a new study [70] that confirms the positive correlation between economic success and population containment (see Figure 1.8). Regions with rapid population growth are associated with underdevelopment, although, of course, the cause and effect in this correlation may change places. However, it is an established fact that in most cultures, achieving a high level of development (ie, adequate education, the level of employment and self-determination of women, and access to abundant energy) leads to stabilization of the population in this group. Conversely, senior politicians and religious leaders should be aware

Figure 1.8 - Cumulative progress towards achieving the 16 Millennium Development Goals, based on official data from the United Nations Statistics Division. The graph reflects the relationship between the change in population size (in percent) and the progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (in glasses) from 1990 to 2014, among various regions of the world. The country gets 3 points for each goal achieved, 0 points with insufficient progress in achieving the goal, or loses 3 points if progress is absent or slowed down. Serious population growth is correlated with underdevelopment. (Source: Michael Herrmann. 2015. Consequential Omissions. How does the SDGs for the SDGs. Lessons from the United Kingdom and the Berlin Institute for Population and Development, UNFPA 2015)

On a planet with a limit, population growth must be reduced before nature takes action. The Club of Rome endorses the actions of those countries in which they found a way to rapidly reduce the level of reproduction of the population, and also congratulates them in actively promoting programs that have proven to be effective in achieving such measures (health care for newborns and children under 5; services such as family planning, education and the emancipation of women), as well as for the purposeful increase in welfare per capita and the provision of certain social insurance for the elderly - all this helps to eradicate the desire to having big families.

A recent study by K.S. and Lutz [71] estimates that better education could lead to a decrease in the global population of 1 billion by 2050 compared with current expectations (see Figure 1.9). Many developing countries to search for sustainable development have already commissioned to support women in their education and inclusion in the economy. For development cooperation, it is imperative to focus on achieving the desired results in this area.

Figure 1.9 - Some projections of the population in 2050, depending on the profile of the education of the population. The center forecast (SSP1) of 8.5 billion people is based on a highly educated scenario, while the SSP3 forecast with a low level of education leads to 10 billion people. The left chart is the position at the time of 2010. (Source: KC S, Lutz W (2014). Demographic scenarios by age narratives and sex 35 four)

The wealthiest countries pledged to provide reproductive health and family planning services in accordance with the 1994 Cairo Program of Action, but so far neither the governments nor the sponsoring organizations have kept their Cairo promises. This means that it is estimated that about half a million women worldwide die each year during childbirth. Hundreds of millions of couples are limited in access to contraceptives - a situation that until recently helped strengthen the Catholic Church. And although many more children attend school now than it was 10 years ago, there is still a gap between boys and girls. In countries like India, Nepal, Togo, Yemen and in some parts of Turkey, there are 20% more boys in schools than girls. In poor rural areas of Pakistan, less than a quarter of girls receive education.

In many developing countries, there are between 4 and 8 deliveries per woman. The main reason is poverty. However, the low status of women in society also plays a big role, and all forms of discrimination against women remain a serious problem. TalentNomics was founded to evaluate the economic costs and benefits of the gender gap in order to support opportunities for women in India. [72]

With regard to the impact on the environment due to population growth, it is obvious that the numbers themselves will not describe the whole picture. The equation “B = NBT” [73] derived by Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren contains three factors affecting the human influence on the environment (C): population (H), relative well-being (B) and application of technologies (T), where T is defined as the hope of a dramatic reduction in the human impact on the environment per unit of value added (see Chapters 3.4 , 3.8 and 3.9 ).

The recent century of “great acceleration” (see Figure 1.6) clearly shows that the population alone does not explain the massive increase in human influence: although the number of people has increased fivefold, the world economy has increased 40 times and the use of fossil fuels 16; fishing increased 35 times, and human use of water at 9.

As long as the population remains one of the factors explaining the growing influence of humanity, it is critically important worldwide (not only in Africa) to increase measures to encourage families to reduce the number of births. It will be more realistic to cope with climate change and the destruction of the ecosystem if the Earth’s population is established at around 9 billion (which is still possible) than between 10 and 11 billion or more.

1.7.2 Urbanization

Mankind is transforming from a rural lifestyle into an urban look. Global urbanization does not seem to be stopped (see Figure 1.10). In developed and developing countries, cities make it easier to get access to resources, provide more job opportunities, and have cultural, educational, and medical benefits compared to rural areas. These centers of economic power and social interaction, production and consumption have magnetic appeal.

Figure 1.10 - Creation of the urban century: it is predicted that in 100 years the population of cities will grow by almost 10 times and amount to 70% of the global population. (Source: UN Department of Economic & Social Affairs, Population Division)

In 1800, there was only one city with a population of over a million inhabitants - London. Then from that moment on, global urbanization, closely connected with the achievements of the industrial revolution, was in full swing. From 1900 to 2011, the world population grew 4.5 times from 1.5 to 7 billion. During this time, the global urban population has expanded 16-fold, from 225 million to 3.6 billion (to about 52% of the total population). It is expected that by 2030, 60% of the world's population (4.9 billion people) will live in cities - about 3 times more than in 1900 made up the entire world population. [74] Today there are more than 300 cities with a population of one million and more, 22 megacities with 10 million people — 16 of them in developing countries. [75]

Modern cities with a population of one million are undoubtedly an amazing achievement. They are the space in which humanity performs a bunch of social, economic and cultural affairs. They are the centers of global communications and transportation systems. They attract investors, because offer a wide variety of services at a relatively low unit cost. One aspect of urban life associated with improving sustainable development is that urbanization is very positively correlated with a reduction in the birth rate, and this is an empirically established fact. [76]

But there are some environmental disadvantages: the need for resources and the production of waste in cities constitute a large part of the ecological footprint of humanity. We need to be ready to face the main contradiction: although cities are becoming our main habitat, urbanization in its current form contributes to the rapid increase in the share of the ecological footprint of humanity. Studies in China and India have shown that the movement of people from villages to cities usually leads to a fourfold increase in their consumption of resources. [77] The cumulative impact of humankind on the ecology has already exceeded extremely the Earth's biocapacity (see Chapter 1.10 ).

Sufficiency of materials and disorderly urban development go hand in hand. And this is due to the desire of a person to have more living space, to use a car for moving and to be able to escape from the city noise, pollution and crime. The growth of cities and the transport infrastructure connecting cities throughout the world is absorbing more than ever fertile land. So the phenomenon of accelerating urbanization is also a problem due to the reduction of agricultural land, as well as space for wildlife. All of this means that, although cities occupy only a small fraction of the earth's surface, their ecological footprint affects most of the productive land and the surface of the seas on the planet.

One of the co-authors of this book, Herbie Girarde, found that the ecological footprint of London is 125 times the area of ​​the city itself, which is approximately equivalent to the area of ​​the fertile land of all of England. [78] A typical North American city with a population of 650 thousand people would require 30 thousand square kilometers of land to meet its domestic needs — an approximate area of ​​Vancouver Island in Canada. For comparison, a similar-sized city in India (where the standard of living is significantly lower, and a vegetarian diet also prevails) would require only 2.8 thousand square km. [79]

The situation in China, the most populous country in the world, is very interesting: China shows the highest rate of urbanization growth among all fear - an increase is expected from 54% in 2016 to 60% in 2020. Hundreds of millions of people have already moved from the villages to the cities, and often to the mega-city. Recently, China’s desire to create an ecological civilization has often been given publicity (see Chapter 3.16). Of course, this is the official policy of governments regarding urbanization - to achieve an appropriate level of prosperity. “The national plan for a new type of urbanization for the period 2014-2020” [80] essentially states: “National needs are the main driving force for the development of China, and the main potential for expanding national needs lies in urbanization”. Both national needs and urbanization are intended to reduce China’s unhealthy (positive) trade balance. But it remains to be shown how all this will not go against China’s goals in achieving a sustainable environment.

Is the urbanized world dominated by chaotically built cities and mega cities with their characteristic significant ecological footprint, imminent - or are there alternatives? Are cities able to exist and even prosper, relying on regional, rather than world resources? Can they be designed within a limited planet to continually renew the resources on which they depend? Chapter 3.6 will give some optimistic answers.

To be continued ...

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More translations of the report of the Club of Rome 2018


Chapter 1.1.1
“Various types of crises and feelings of helplessness”

Chapter 1.1.2:

Chapter 1.1.3:
“An Empty World Against Full Peace”

Chapter 1.5:
“The Climatic Challenge”

Chapter 1.6:
“Technological Wild Cards”

Chapter 1.10 :
“Agenda 2030: The Devil is in Implementation”

Chapter 1.11:
“Disruptive Technologies and the Digital Revolution”

Chapter 1.12:
“From an Empty World to a Complete World”

Chapter 2.6:
“Philosophical Errors of Market Doctrine”

Chapter 2.10:
“Maybe we need a new the Age of Enlightenment ”

Chapter 3.1:
“ Regenerative Economy ”

Chapter 3.2:
Development Alternatives

Chapter 3.3:
“Blue Economy”

Chapter 3.4:
“Decentralized Energy”

Chapter 3.5:
“Some Success Stories in Agriculture”

Chapter 3.6:
“Regenerative Urbanism: Ecopolis”

Chapter 3.7:
“Climate: Good News, but Big Problems "

Chapter 3.8:
" The economy of a closed cycle requires a different logic "

Chapter 3.9:
" The fivefold performance of resources "

Chapter 3.10:
" Tax on bits "

Chapter 3.11:
" Reforms of the financial sector "

Chapter 3.12:
" Reforms of the economic system "

Chapter 3.13:
" Philanthropy, investments, crowdsors and blockchains "

Chapter 3.14:
“Not a single GDP ...”

Chapter 3.15:
“Collective Leadership”

Chapter 3.16:
“Global Government”

Chapter 3.17:
“Actions at the National Level: China and Bhutan”

Chapter 3.18:
“Literacy on the Future”


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