Global Challenge 3

Global Challenge 3: How can population and resources be brought into balance?

Brief Overview

The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to grow by another 2.2 billion in just 33 years (by 2050). If all are to be fed, then food production will have to increase 50% over production in 2012, while urban areas are expected to triple in size by 2030, resulting in a loss of peri-urban farmlands. With improvements in child survival, and its synergy with enhanced family planning improvements, this population growth could be lower. Life expectancy at birth increased from 46 years in 1950 to 67 years in 2010 and 71.5 years in 2015. In 2017 there were 962 million people aged 60 or older; the UN projects this to grow to 2.2 billion by 2050.

This aging effect is one aspect of highly varied population age structures across countries stemming from their widely differing historical population growth, now moving to the future. (The continuing and future strain (and potential gain) of internal/urbanization and international migration is another development, driven in part by economic, political. and religious effects of high population growth, age structure, and available resources.) The uneven advances and implementation of health care, the variations in family planning and changing reproductive behavior, and the devastations of war, disease, and famine have left some countries with disproportionately aging populations and others with an overabundance of children and young people compared with workers and retirees. While this has been ongoing, the impacts and capacity to reshape economies and societies will become increasingly visible—for some, strains on labor and productivity to support the growing proportion of elderly (for instance, in most of Europe and countries of the previous Soviet Union); for others, challenges in the means to educate young people while addressing their frustration, anger, and unrest if expectations for employment and better life are not met (for instance, most of Africa and much of Latin America). The China that for 50 years harvested development from its large and growing youthful low-wage population now faces a future of lower population growth where those same workers are retired, straining the proportionately fewer workers that follow them and putting pressure on continued high rates of technological change to sustain progress.

Advances in longevity R&D are likely to help many more people live much longer and healthier lives than current trends. This includes regenerative medicine, DNA repair, and other longevity research. For example, scanning ultrasound removes amyloid-β and restores memory in 75% of Alzheimer’s diseased rats.

However, the world is not creating Eco-smart Cities and retrofitting older cities fast enough to prevent future large-scale complex disasters from decaying infrastructures for water, energy, waste, transportation, housing, food, and security. Urban populations will nearly double by 2050, increasing the pressure on these systems especially in developing-country cities, where nearly all of the population growth will occur. AI connected to IoT and sensor networks will be needed to provide real-time information for continual urban repair, improvement, and public participation. Early examples are Songdo in South Korea and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi. India plans to build 100 smart cities by 2022. China has launched nearly 200 smart city pilot projects. People are moving around the planet more than ever; 244 million people moved from one country to another during 2015. Future migrations from low-income, high-youth-employment regions to high-income aging societies seem inevitable.

If this and other related research can work on humans, then older people could be an economic asset rather than a liability. Such advances will be needed; otherwise the long-term future health costs of an aging society cannot be met. Human brain projects, artificial intelligence, and other advances are likely to eventually prevent mental deterioration in old age and even increase intelligence. People will work past current retirement age and create many forms of work. This will reduce the economic burden on younger generations and provide a more interesting life for the elderly.

Unless agriculture and food production change, the environmental impacts of feeding another 2.2 billion people by 2050 plus improved nutrition for a billion undernourished today will be devastating. Agricultural runoffs are already polluting rivers and creating dead zones around the world. Factory farming is increasing food-borne diseases. Malnourishment is falling, but slowly from 19% some 25 years ago to about 11% today, although infant mortality for children under five has been cut in half over the same time period. About 800 million are still hungry. Meanwhile, at least 41 million children under five, including 10 million in Africa, are overweight or obese. See Challenge 2 for implications for water resources and Challenge 13 for energy resources.

Actions to Address Global Challenge 3:
  • Support policies to improve child survival, family planning, and girls’ education.
  • Improve methods that strengthen age differential intergenerational transfers to secure skills and employment for youth and care and services for the elderly.
  • Implement the UN Urban Agenda.
  • Integrate urban sensors, mesh networks, and intelligent software to create smarter cities that let citizens help in urban improvements.
  • Increase training in resilience, disaster forecasting, and management.
  • Teach urban systems ecology.
  • Increase R&D in saltwater agriculture (halophytes) on coastlines to produce food for humans and animals, biofuels, and pulp for the paper industry as well as to absorb CO2, which also reduces the drain on freshwater agriculture and increases employment.
  • Improve rain-fed agriculture and irrigation management.
  • Invest in precision agriculture and aquaculture.
  • Produce pure meat without growing animals (demonstrated in 2013).
  • Genetic engineering for higher-yielding and drought-tolerant crops.
  • Reduce food losses from farm to mouth (one-third or 1.3 billion tons of agricultural production is wasted each year).[1]
  • Plant sea grass to bring back wild fish populations along the coastlines.
  • Expand insect production for animal feed and human diets (insects have low environmental impact per nutrition, and 2 billion people already supplement their diet with insects today).
  • Encourage vegetarianism.
  • Build floating cities for ocean wind & solar energy, agriculture, and fish farms.
  • Accelerate R&D for safe nanotechnology to help reduce material use per unit of output while increasing quality.
Figure 1.4 Prevalence of undernourishment (% of population)
Source: World Bank indicators, with Millennium Project compilation and forecast

Short Overview and Regional Considerations

The current world population is 7.6 billion. It is expected to grow to 8.6 billion in 2030 and 9.8 billion in 2050. The 2.2 billion more people in just 23 years will create unprecedented demand for food, water, energy, and employment. Population growth is expected to be most rapid in the 49 least developed countries, doubling in size from about 900 million today to 1.8 billion in 2050. There were only 1 billion humans in 1804; 2 billion in 1927; 6 billion in 1999; and 7.3 billion today. UN forecasts a range from 8.3 billion to 10.9 billion people by 2050, with 9.6 billion as the mid-projection. For 2100, the UN projects an 80% probability that the world’s population will be between 9.6 and 12.3 billion.

According to UN estimates, by 2050, over 70% of the human population will live in urban areas. The UN-HABITAT estimates the annual urban population increase between 2007 and 2025 in developing regions to be 53 million (or 2.3%), compared to a mere 3 million (or 0.5%) in developed regions. The growth of urban areas will present many social, economic, and environmental challenges in the future, particularly for cities in developing countries that struggle to keep up with the rapid changes. With expansion of private car ownership, urban cities become more congested; time losses from traffic congestion are estimated to cost the equivalent of 2% GDP in Europe and 2–5% in Asia. In the near future, computer driven driver-less cars and trucks are expected to dramatically reduce congestion. New approaches to urban systems ecology and smarter cities are beginning to be invented and implemented that should improve environmental impacts. See Global Challenges 2 on water and 13 on energy for additional approaches on addressing these resources for the growing populations.

While the challenges presented by increasing population growth, migration to urban areas, and climate change are formidable, the combination of technology, knowledge sharing, and smart governance is forming a new kind of city- the Smart City. Smart Cities use new technology to create more efficient, data driven cities which can help protect the environment. $8.1 billion was spent on smart city technologies in 2010, and the figure is estimated to reach $39.5 billion by 2016. There are currently 102 smart city projects globally with 73 in North America and Europe. Some Smart Cities are being built smart from the ground up. Cities such as Songdo, South Korea and Masdar City in Abu Dhabi are highlighted by the Smart City Movement. Songdo has 40% parkland, an underground waste disposal system and a water recycling center. Though the construction work is not completed, the city houses nearly 40,000 people today. Masdar City is a low-carbon city which uses solar power, wind power, and passive energy saving techniques to create an environmentally friendly city. Once completed in 2025, the city can house some 40,000 people and consumes one-fifth of the energy compared with a similarly sized conventional city. India plans to build no fewer than 100 smart cities by 2022.

Older cities are also using technology to become more efficient and protect the environment. New York City has a website called dontflush.me, which guides residents on when not to flush their toilet to reduce sewage pollution in the New York City Harbor. Rio de Janeiro has installed sensors and cameras around the entire city to help monitor traffic issues, social unrest, and other issues. Singapore’s Jurong Lake District is experimenting with an Intelligent Energy System which will “allow the city to better manage electricity demand, and offer consumers improved services and products that will allow them to actively manage their energy consumption, utility bills and carbon footprint.”

In 2014, the International Standards Organization published ISO 37120, indicators for city services and quality of life to help measure the sustainable development of communities. The areas covered by ISO 37120are: economy, education, energy, environment, finance, fire and emergency response, governance, health, recreation, safety, shelter, solid waste, telecommunications and innovation, transportation, urban planning, wastewater, and water and sanitation. Cities are beginning to partner with private corporations such as IBM, Cisco, GE, and Siemens to collect, analyze, and use the data for better decision making.

Population dynamics are changing from high mortality and high fertility to low mortality and low fertility, with an increasingly elderly population worldwide. The world’s fertility rate has fallen from 6 children per woman in 1900 and 5 in 1950 to 2.45 today. If fertility rates continue to fall, world population could actually shrink to 6.2 billion by 2100, creating an elderly world difficult to support. Today life expectancy at birth is 70.5 years, which is projected to grow to 81 by 2100; with advances in longevity research, this projection will increase. The longevity genes that give the bowhead whale a 200-year-plus lifespan was found, which might be used to extend human life. The population aged 60 or over is expected to increase from 12% (864 million) in 2014 to 21% (2 billion) in 2050, with 20% of the older population aged 80 or more. Some 22% of Europeans were 60 or older in 2012, compared with 11% in Asia, 10% in Latin America and 6% in Africa. The share of world’s older people living in the less developed regions will increase from 66% today to 79% by 2050.

The population is expected to decrease in more than 43 countries between now and 2050. By 2050, there could be as many people over 65 as under 15, requiring new concepts of retirement. Countering this “retirement problem” is the potential for future scientific and medical breakthroughs that could give people longer and more productive lives than most would believe possible today. Human brain projects in the US, Europe, and Asia may learn how to prevent mental deterioration in old age and even increase intelligence. People will work longer and create many forms of tele-work, part-time work, and job rotation to reduce the economic burden on younger generations and to maintain living standards. Meanwhile, half the population is under age 18 in 17 developing countries, and the world’s youth population would exceed 3.5 billion by the end of the century. Some 120 million young people reach working age every year. The extended retirement age may undermine the prospects for employment for the youth, potentially leading to prolonged instability and political instability.

805 million people, or 11.3% of the world’s population was clinically undernourished in the 2012-14 period, down from over 1 billion (18.7%) in the 1990-92 period. The mortality rate for children younger than 5 dropped by nearly half between 1990 and 2013. Despite these progresses, concerns are increasing over the variety and nutritional quality of food. FAO estimates that 30% (2 billion people) suffer from “hidden hunger.” This is a situation in which the intake of calories is sufficient but the amount of vitamins and minerals is not. Industrial agriculture can reduce the nutrient content of crops, thus escalating the risk of hidden hunger. About one in eight in the world are chronically undernourished. FAO lists 35 countries that are in need of external food assistance and WFP provides food assistance to more than 81 million people in 75 countries. Meanwhile, more than 2.1 billion people, or nearly 30% of the global population, are overweight (BMI 25 and above) or obese (BMI 30 and above). Obesity is responsible for about 5% of all deaths per year globally, and costs $2 trillion annually in healthcare and lost productivity. In high-income countries and emerging economies, the cost of healthy food has increased more than that of less healthy options over the last 30 years, thus encouraging diets that lead to overweight and obesity. Globally, the number of children under 5 who are overweight or obese increased 11 million between 2000 and 2015 and reached 42 million.

In some of these countries, agricultural lands (mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa) are being sold or leased to foreign investors to feed people in those countries. Since 2006, more than 400 large-scale land-grabs covering nearly 35 million hectares of land in 66 countries have been reported. Europe- and Asia-based investors account for about two-thirds of the deals listed by GRAIN. Grain imports to the Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa increased to 70 million tons in 2011, more than doubling since 1990. OECD estimates that the private sector’s investment in farmland and agricultural infrastructure is as much as $25 billion and could double or triple over the next three to five years. Responsible Agricultural Investment, backed by the World Bank and UN agencies, aims to promote investment that respects local rights and livelihoods, but it is heavily criticized by NGOs as a move to legitimize land grabbing.

To keep up with population and economic growth, food production should increase by 70% by 2050. Meat consumption is predicted to increase from 37 kg/person/year in 2000 to over 52 kg/person/year by 2050; if so, then 50% of cereal production would go to animal feed. Over the last 20 years, inflation adjusted food prices have doubled and may rise by an additional 150% by 2030. In food-import-dependent poor countries, where people already spend up to 80% of their incomes on food, a price hike could mean starvation. The FAO Food Price Index averaged 171 points in April 2015, 1.2% lower than the figure in a year ago and nearly 30% lower than the peak in 2011. However, food prices may rise again due to increasing affluence (especially in India and China), soil erosion and the loss of cropland, increasing fertilizer costs, market speculation, aquifer depletion, falling water tables and water pollution, diversion of crops to biofuels, increasing meat consumption, falling food reserves, diversion of water from rural to urban, and a variety of climate change impacts. Yet, there are enough food resources and varieties in the world to feed everyone, but their management and distribution are deficient, ending up with about 33% of the food produced for human consumption being wasted. In the developed countries, some 30% of food is wasted at the consumption level, while in the developing ones, an estimated 40% is wasted at the production level, due to lack of adequate infrastructure and commercialization networks.

“Pyramiding” or “stacking” – a process to insert multiple rust resistance genes in a single variety of wheat may help prevent pandemic caused by Ug99; nevertheless, creating alternatives would be wise to avoid future pandemics like the Ug99 fungus. Conventional farming relying on expensive inputs is not very resilient to climatic change. Agricultural productivity could decline 9–21% in developing countries by 2050 as a result of global warming. Small-scale farmers can double food production within 10 years by using ecological methods. Agroecological farming projects have shown an average crop yield increase of 80% in 57 countries, with an average increase of 116% for all African projects. GM cotton crops in China have cut pesticide use in half since the introduction of insect-resistant BT cotton in 2007, but monocultures undermine biodiversity, which is critical for agricultural viability.

New agricultural approaches are needed, such as:
  • producing pure meat without growing animals (demonstrated in 2013)
  • better rain-fed agriculture and irrigation management
  • genetic engineering for higher-yielding and drought-tolerant crops
  • reducing losses from farm to mouth
  • precision agriculture and aquaculture
  • planting sea grass to bring back wild fish populations
  • saltwater agriculture (halophytes) on coastlines to produce food for human and animals, biofuels, and pulp for the paper industry as well as to absorb COwhich also reduces the drain on freshwater agriculture and land, and increase employment.
  • processing of insects for animal feed (“Insects are everywhere and they reproduce quickly, and they have high growth and feed conversion rates and a low environmental footprint,” according to FAO; 2 billion people worldwide already supplement their diet with insects today.
The global market for organic food and beverages increased threefold in the past decade, with organic agriculture found on 37 million hectares in 160 countries. The World Bank estimates that 62% of the seafood eaten in 2030 will be farm-raised and 70% of that will be consumed in Asia. China is expected to produce 37% of the world’s fish by 2030, while consuming 38% of world’s food fish.

Examples of other ways to help balance future populations and resources include:
  • encourage vegetarianism; floating ocean solar, agriculture, and fish farms
  • anticipate potential impacts of synthetic biology and other longevity technologies that could make aging healthier and more productive
  • accelerate safe nanotechnology R&D (to help reduce material use per unit of output while increasing quality)
  • encourage telemedicine (including online self-diagnosis expert software)
  • integrate urban sensors, mesh networks, and intelligent software to create smarter cities that let citizens help in urban improvements, and
  • teach urban systems ecology.
Without more intelligent human-nature symbioses, increased migrations, conflicts, and disease seem inevitable. Continual improvements and applications of ICT are key to improving the match between needs and resources worldwide and in real time.

Challenge 3 will be addressed seriously when the annual growth in world population drops to fewer than 30 million, the number of hungry people decreases by half, the majority of cities have set goals to to become eco-smart cities, and new approaches to aging become economically viable.

Regional Considerations

Africa: African countries spent $35 billion on food imports (excluding fish) per year. Increasing agricultural productivity and maximizing the potential of sustainable, nutritionally rich agriculture and aquaculture to provide food, jobs and export earnings should be the region’s priority.Grow Africa has put $10 billion from 200 companies to improve the agricultural production of Africa. Half of Africa’s population is 17 or younger. More than half of global population growth between now and 2050 is expected to occur in Africa with Nigeria set to have the world’s third highest population by 2050. Africa’s population doubled in the past 27 years to reach 1 billion. It is projected to reach 2.7 billion in 2060, possibly growing to 3.6 billion by 2100. Those 15–64 (working age) is expected to triple between 2005 and 2060. By 2050, one in every three births will be African, and almost one in three children under the age of 18 will also be African. Yet, the population of older persons in Africa is projected to more than triple by 2050, reaching 212 million. Only 28% of married women of childbearing age are using contraceptives, compared with the global average of 62%. In Ethiopia, where the use of modern contraception reaches 27%, fertility rate is now below the replacement level in its capital Addis Ababa. In Lybia and Tunisia, the average age of women’s first marriage increased from about 20 to 29 over the last 30 years. The average number of children more than halved during the same period. UNICEF estimated 60% of urban dwellers live in slum conditions today; children in these conditions are less likely to go to school and more likely to have poor nutrition, increasing future unemployment and probabilities of prolonged social conflicts. People under the age of 25 account for about 60% of total unemployed in Sub-Saharan Africa. Historically, however, growing populations have often led to economic growth. Yet increasing population density, coupled with declining soil fertility and climate change, will put immense pressure on natural resources. Much of the urban management class is being seriously reduced by AIDS, which has also lowered life expectancy in some countries. Conflicts and corruption continue to prevent development investments, ruin fertile farmland, create refugees, compound food emergencies, and prevent better management of natural resources. Africa has more than half the world’s unused potential farmland.

Asia and Oceania: More than 60% of the projected increase in urban population from 2010 to 2050 will take place in Asia, but cities in the region are particularly vulnerable to climate change because of their high concentration in hazard-prone locations. Even today, more than 500 million people in Asia are slum-dwellers. Asia and the Middle East has roughly 100 million more men than women with the biggest gaps seen in China and India. The gap widened 70% since 1985. By 2025, China will have more than 220 cities with populations over 1 million and eight megacities with over 10 million. China’s urbanization rate has more than doubled to 55% today from 26% in 1990, and is expected to reach 60% according to their 42-trillion yuan ($6.8 trillion) “National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014-2020)”. China is growing old before it has grown rich enough to support a large ageing population. More than 10 million people died in China in 2014, and the number is expected to double between 2025 and 2030. The figure far exceeds the capacity of existing crematoriums in China and will result in excessive production of dioxins and other pollutants. Meanwhile, China’s infertility rate rose to around 12.5% of people of childbearing age, more than four times higher than it was 20 years ago. Only one-third of the semen at Shanghai’s main sperm bank meets WHO standards. The population of Japan decreased 0.17% in 2014, and its current population of 127 million can shrink to 87 million by 2060. Japan is considering changing the retirement age from 65 to 75. In Safe Cities Index 2015, Tokyo was ranked as the most populous but also the safest city among the 50 surveyed worldwide, followed by Singapore and Osaka, but suicide and depression cost Japan $32 billion per year. India’s population will surpass that of China around 2028 and continue to grow for several decades. By 2050, Hindus will become the world’s third largest population, and India will overtake Indonesia as the country with the largest Muslim population. Approximately a third of the population in the Middle East is below 15; another third is 15–29; and average youth unemployment is over 27% (some 44% for young female). The population of the Gulf Corporation Council countries is expected to reach 53.5 million in 2020 from 36 million today, and their food import bill is expected to double from $24.1 billion in 2009 to %53.1 billion in 2020. More than two thirds of girls in Yemen get married before they reach 18.

Europe: Driven by the war in Syria and unrest in Libya, the number of migrants and asylum seekers arriving in Italy by sea reached 170,000 in 2014, nearly four-times larger than the figure in 2013. Taking into account the projected inward migration flows to the EU over the next decades, the EU population as a whole will be larger in 2060 compared to 2013. Yet, the population is expected to decrease in about half of the EU Member States. During the same period, the ratio of people aged 65 or above relative to those aged 15-64 is projected to increase from 27.8% to 50.1%. Women’s life expectancy at birth in EU by 2060 could reach 89.1 years, up from 82.5 in 2010; men’s could be 84.6 years, up from 76.7 in 2010. People aged less than 15 years accounted for 18.6% of the European population in 1994, but just 15.6% in 2014. Germany has the lowest proportion with children accounting for 13.1% of the population.Yet, 13% of the youth in the EU are considered NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training), and in Greece and Spain, the share is 20.4% and 18.6% respectively. EU spends €153 billion per year for measures related to ‘labor market disengagement of young people’. Europe’s low fertility rate and its aging and shrinking population will force changes in pension and social security systems, incentives for more children, and increases in immigrant labor, affecting international relations, culture, and the social fabric. The number of Greeks and Spaniards moving to other EU countries doubled between 2007 and 2013. The Center for Strategic and International Studies forecasts that people of Muslim origin will grow to 25% of France and 33% of Germany by 2050. East to West European migration is expected to continue, as are migrations from rural to urban areas, and from North Africa and the Middle East to Southern Europe – these migrations are expected to increase, as long as poverty, civil wars, social and health problems continue. Russia’s population peaked at 149 million in 1991 and then began a decade-long decline, falling at a rate of about 0.5% per year due to declining birth rates, rising death rates, and emigration; the last few years, however, have seen some population growth, increases in life expectancy, and immigration.In 2014 Russia’s population increased by 2 million people to 146 million after annexation of Crimea and 1 million ethnic Russian-Ukrainians migrated to Russia.

Latin America: The LAC is the only region that has collectively achieved the MDG of halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger by 2015, and the region is also on track of meeting the more stringent World Food Summit goal of halving the total number of undernourished people, which is about 37 million today. The region has about 12% of the arable land, 8.5% of the population, 33% of the fresh water resources, 21% of the natural forests, and substantial mineral resources. About 85% of the region will be urban by 2030, requiring massive urban and agricultural infrastructural investments. Latin America’s share of population 60 years or over is likely to increase from 10% in 2012 to 25% in 2050. Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua have approved food security laws to ensure local agricultural products are primarily used to feed their own populations and not for export; nine more countries are planning the same. With 70% of adults being overweight or obese, Mexico faces the most serious obesity crisis in the region. Mexico introduced a tax on sugary drinks and junk food. Approximately one third of Mexico’s population lives in rural areas. PROSPERA has been working with the rural poor in Mexico by paying families if their children regularly attend school, health clinic visits, and recieve nutritional support; it also promotes more responsible use of rural natural resources. In Mexico, by 2050, half of the population will be older than 43, with an 18-year increase in median age. As fertility rates fall in Brazil and longevity increases by 50% over the next 20 years, the ability to meet financial needs for the elderly will diminish; hence, the concept of retirement will have to change, and social inclusion will have to improve to avoid future intergenerational conflicts. Peru keeps a 10-year moratorium on imports of GMO products; Peru is one of the world’s leading exporters of organic food (coffee, cocoa, quinoa, banana), with $3 billion in potential annual revenue. LAC region possesses a substantial part of the most important non-renewable mineral reserves; CELAC is contemplating new strategies for increasing the exercise of sovereignty over natural resources for raising countries’ benefits and improving the living standard of the local population.

North America: Across the region, the share of population 60 and over is expected to rise from 19% in 2012 to 27% in 2050. The number of those 65 or older in the U.S. is expected to grow from about 40 million in 2009 to 72 million in 2030. Minorities in the U.S. are now the majority of those under one year old. The number of elderly pensioners jumped 1,300% since the 1980s. An MIT study finds air pollution causes about 200,000 early deaths each year in the United States. More than a million U.S. households with children are with incomes below $2 a person a day. Nearly 15% of American households were considered food insecure today, compared to 10.5% in 2000. Meanwhile, two-thirds of people in the U.S. are overweight or obese, and 8.3% have diabetes. On average, every American wastes 253 pounds of food every year. Reducing “throw-away” consumption could change the population-resource balance. Advances in biotechnology, nanotech, and individualized genomic medicine are just beginning to have an impact on medical practice; hence, dramatic breakthroughs in longevity seem inevitable in 25–50 years. North American farmers are increasingly exploring how to make farming more resilient to climate change and weather extremes, while global warming should increase Canadian grain exports. Vancouver is the fifth most livable city of the world, while Toronto and Ottawa are ranked 15th and 16th respectively.

Graphs expressing the global situation:
Life expectancy at birth (years)
Source: World Bank indicators, with Millennium Project compilation and forecast; graph part of the 2015 State of the Future Index; details in the 2015-16 State of the Future report