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World Population Day: Sustainable population growth for a sustainable future requires understanding, comprehensive planning and collaboration

In this blog, Prof. Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi, a council member of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP), explores how global demographic changes necessitate investments in education, healthcare, and policy reforms to ensure sustainable development and address diverse regional challenges.

The theme of this year’s World Population Day, celebrated today on July 11, focuses on the importance of ensuring sustainable population growth for a sustainable future. This raises key questions: What is sustainable population growth? How can it be achieved in our diverse world? What opportunities and challenges do we face? And what policies are needed to ensure a sustainable future?

Today’s global demographic landscape is both diverse and complex, presenting opportunities and challenges for future development. In 2024, the world’s population reached approximately 8.1 billion and is estimated to surpass 10 billion by 2100. However, different regions and countries experience varying population growth rates, age structures, and challenges such as population ageing.

Global demographic challenges: opportunities and obstacles across regions

Most of the population growth over the next century is expected to come from Africa. Countries on the African continent are experiencing rapid population growth, with a large youth population presenting the potential for a demographic dividend. This potential can be realized through significant investments in education, skills development, and health services, including sexual and reproductive health (SRH), as well as by narrowing gender disparities.

Ensuring equal rights and opportunities for girls and young women is crucial, as wide inequalities and lack of access to SRH services remain major concerns globally.

Similarly, in middle- and low-income countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, rapid urbanization, poverty, unequal access to education, poor learning outcomes, high youth unemployment, limited opportunities for women, poor healthcare, climate and poverty-induced migration, as well as gender disparities pose significant demographic challenges. Addressing these issues is essential for harnessing the demographic dividend and achieving sustainable development.

In contrast, Latin America faces challenges due to low fertility and rapid population aging, which impact social security and healthcare systems. Similarly, European and East and Southeast Asian countries are grappling with low fertility, negative population growth, population aging, and labor shortages. International migration also significantly affects population dynamics and policy discussions in these regions. Eastern Europe struggles with very low fertility and the outmigration of young people, leading to shrinking populations. In North America, demographic concerns include low fertility, family transformation, abortion access, inequality, and migration issues.

Navigating global demographic challenges: investments, policies, and data-driven solutions

Conflicts and crises worldwide have created challenges that demand investments in healthcare, education, social protection, and job creation. Mass migration and population displacement due to conflict are major concerns. Additionally, climate change, a megatrend affecting demographic change, is likely to displace populations and impact fertility and mortality. Technological advancements are also shaping demographic changes, creating both challenges and opportunities.

Governments are increasingly concerned about the impact of these demographic changes on economies, social support systems, and the sustainability of infrastructure and services, particularly in areas with shrinking populations and labor shortages. In an era of growing diversity and persistent inequalities, population issues are often politicized, making public discourse ideologically charged. Providing solid, evidence-based information is thus a key policy concern.

The current and emerging demographic diversity and changes pose serious questions about how to manage population issues effectively. Rigorous analysis and understanding of global population dynamics and trends are necessary. Timely data and information from traditional and new sources are essential for anticipating future demands and designing effective policies.

Sustainable population growth: A need for holistic and collaborative solutions

A holistic approach to sustainability, comprehensive solutions, and better policies are needed to manage emerging population trends and ensure sustainable population growth. Thirty years after the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), which set the standard for people-centered development, the ICPD30 Global Dialogue in Dhaka, Bangladesh, aimed to encourage practical responses to demographic change, reinforce human-rights approaches to population policies, promote gender equality, and advance SRH and reproductive rights.

The ICPD agenda calls for dialogue and partnership among stakeholders, including government and non-government organizations, to achieve its goals at country, regional, and global levels. Scientific organizations like the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) play a crucial role in mobilizing global expertise to address sustainable population challenges. Addressing key population issues with novel approaches, exploring data needs, and developing new methods of analysis are urgently needed. Training new generations of population experts, promoting high-quality research, and sharing knowledge globally are essential.

Furthermore, the IUSSP remains committed to addressing the emerging scientific challenges of demographic diversity and population sustainability. The future sustainability of populations depends on regional mutual benefits and security. While policy priorities differ by country and region, understanding, collaboration, coordination, communication, and dialogue among all countries and individuals are essential for a sustainable future for humanity. The beautifully emotive poem “Bani Adam” (humankind) by Sa’adi, the 13th-century Persian poet, serves as an analogy for our current challenge in realizing this common future of humanity. It reads:

Human beings are members of a whole,
in creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
the name of human you cannot retain.

Sa’adi, Persian poet

The information, opinions and recommendations presented in this article are those of the individual contributor/s, and do not necessarily reflect the values and beliefs of the International Science Council.

Picture by mauro mora on Unsplash

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