U.N. Warns That Rapidly Increasing World Population Could Send 3 Billion Into Poverty

Projected global population growth from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2040 will lead to a dramatic rise in demand for resources. Population growth and a mushrooming global middle class will, by 2030, require a 50 percent increase in food production, 45 percent more energy, and 30 percent more water, according to a new report released by the United Nations.

The report, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing,” [PDF] explores the dramatic increases in demand for natural resources facing the world in coming decades and concludes that the current trajectory for global development is unsustainable [PDF]:

We can no longer assume that our collective actions will not trigger tipping points as environmental thresholds are breached, risking irreversible damage to both ecosystems and human communities. At the same time, such thresholds should not be used to impose arbitrary growth ceilings on developing countries seeking to lift their people out of poverty. Indeed, if we fail to resolve the sustainable development dilemma, we run the risk of condemning up to 3 billion members of our human family to a life of endemic poverty.

The U.N. report finds that a renewed political commitment to sustainable development pays dividends in the long-term but faces short-term political challenges. The authors argue that economic policymakers fail to see sustainable development as an increasingly crucial component of global economic development. They write:

Most economic decision makers still regard sustainable development as extraneous to their core responsibilities for macroeconomic management and other branches of economic policy. Yet integrating environmental and social issues into economic decisions is vital to success.

The U.N.’s “High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability,” which issued the report, calls on the international community to form a “new political economy” for sustainable development that “recogniz[es] that in certain environmental domains, such as climate change, there is ‘market failure’, which requires both regulation and what the economists would recognize as the pricing of ‘environmental externalities’, while making explicit the economic, social and environmental costs of action and inaction.”


While the panel finds that the current problems resource and population challenges can be fixed with sound public policy, they conclude that major reforms of the global economy must be undertaken quickly. “Tinkering on the margins will not do the job,” they write. “The current global economic crisis …offers an opportunity for significant reforms.”