In Part II we looked at various scenarios for emissions. One important determinant is how the world population will change through this century and with a few comments on that topic I thought it worth digging a little.
Here is Lutz, Sanderson & Scherbov, Nature (2001):
The median value of our projections reaches a peak around 2070 at 9.0 billion people and then slowly decreases. In 2100, the median value of our projections is 8.4 billion people with the 80 per cent prediction interval bounded by 5.6 and 12.1 billion.
Figure 1 – Click to enlarge
This paper is behind a paywall but Lutz references the 1996 book he edited for assumptions, which is freely available (link below).
In it the authors comment, p. 22:
Some users clearly want population figures for the year 2100 and beyond. Should the demographer disappoint such expectations and leave it to others with less expertise to produce them? The answer given in this study is no. But as discussed below, we make a clear distinction between what we call projections up to 2030-2050 and everything beyond that time, which we term extensions for illustrative purposes.
And then p.32:
Sanderson (1995) shows that it is impossible to produce “objective” confidence ranges for future population projections. Subjective confidence intervals are the best we can ever attain because assumptions are always involved.
Here are some more recent views.
Gerland et al 2014 – Gerland is from the Population Division of the UN:
The United Nations recently released population projections based on data until 2012 and a Bayesian probabilistic methodology. Analysis of these data reveals that, contrary to previous literature, world population is unlikely to stop growing this century. There is an 80% probability that world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion in 2100. This uncertainty is much smaller than the range from the traditional UN high and low variants. Much of the increase is expected to happen in Africa, in part due to higher fertility and a recent slowdown in the pace of fertility decline..
..Among the most robust empirical findings in the literature on fertility transitions are that higher contraceptive use and higher female education are associated with faster fertility decline. These suggest that the projected rapid population growth could be moderated by greater investments in family planning programs to satisfy the unmet need for contraception, and in girls’ education. It should be noted, however, that the UN projections are based on an implicit assumption of a continuation of existing policies, but an intensification of current investments would be required for faster changes to occur
Wolfgang Lutz & Samir KC (2010). Lutz seems popular in this field:
The total size of the world population is likely to increase from its current 7 billion to 8–10 billion by 2050. This uncertainty is because of unknown future fertility and mortality trends in different parts of the world. But the young age structure of the population and the fact that in much of Africa and Western Asia, fertility is still very high makes an increase by at least one more billion almost certain. Virtually, all the increase will happen in the developing world. For the second half of the century, population stabilization and the onset of a decline are likely..
Although the paper doesn’t focus on 2100, but only up to 2050 it does include a graph for probalistic expectations to 2100 and has some interesting commentary around how different forecasting groups deal with uncertainty, how women’s education plays a huge role in reducing fertility and many other stories, for example:
The Demographic and Health Survey for Ethiopia, for instance, shows that women without any formal education have on average six children, whereas those with secondary education have only two (see http://www.measuredhs.com). Significant differentials can be found in most populations of all cultural traditions. Only in a few modern societies does the strongly negative association give way to a U-shaped pattern in which the most educated women have a somewhat higher fertility than those with intermediate education. But globally, the education differentials are so pervasive that education may well be called the single most important observable source of population heterogeneity after age and sex (Lutz et al. 1999). There are good reasons to assume that during the course of a demographic transition the fact that higher education leads to lower fertility is a true causal mechanism, where education facilitates better access to and information about family planning and most importantly leads to a change in attitude in which ‘quantity’ of children is replaced by ‘quality’, i.e. couples want to have fewer children with better life chances..
Lee 2011, another very interesting paper, makes this comment:
The U.N. projections assume that fertility will slowly converge toward replacement level (2.1 births per woman) by 2100
Lutz’s book had a similar hint that many demographers assume that somehow societies on mass will converge towards a steady state. Lee also comments that probability treatments for “low”, “medium” and “high” are not very realistic because the methods used assume a correlation between different countries, that isn’t true in practice. Lutz likewise has similar points. Here is Lee:
Special issues arise in constructing consistent probability intervals for individual countries, for regions, and for the world, because account must be taken of the positive or negative correlations among the country forecast errors within regions and across regions. Since error correlation is typically positive but less than 1.0, country errors tend to cancel under aggregation, and the proportional error bounds for the world population are far narrower than for individual countries. The NRC study (20) found that the average absolute country error was 21% while the average global error was only 3%. When the High, Medium and Low scenario approach is used, there is no cancellation of error under aggregation, so the probability coverage at different levels of aggregation cannot be handled consistently. An ongoing research collaboration between the U.N. Population Division and a team led by Raftery is developing new and very promising statistical methods for handling uncertainty in future forecasts.
And then on UN projections:
One might quibble with this or that assumption, but the UN projections have had an impressive record of success in the past, particularly at the global level, and I expect that to continue in the future. To a remarkable degree, the UN has sought out expert advice and experimented with cutting edge forecasting techniques, while maintaining consistency in projections. But in forecasting, errors are inevitable, and sound decision making requires that the likelihood of errors be taken into account. In this respect, there is much room for improvement in the UN projections and indeed in all projections by government statistical offices.
This comment looks like an oblique academic gentle slapping around (disguised as praise), but it’s hard to tell.
I don’t have a conclusion. I thought it would be interesting to find some demographic experts and show their views on future population trends. The future is always hard to predict – although in demography the next 20 years are usually easy to predict, short of global plagues and famines.
It does seem hard to have much idea about the population in 2100, but the difference between a population of 8bn and 11bn will have a large impact on CO2 emissions (without very significant CO2 mitigation policies).
The end of world population growth, Wolfgang Lutz, Warren Sanderson & Sergei Scherbov, Nature (2001) – paywall paper
The future population of the world – what can we assume?, edited Wolfgang Lutz, Earthscan Publications (1996) – freely available book
World Population Stabilization Unlikely This Century, Patrick Gerland et al, Science (2014) – free paper
Dimensions of global population projections: what do we know about future population trends and structures? Wolfgang Lutz & Samir KC, Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B (2010)
The Outlook for Population Growth, Ronald Lee, Science (2011) – free paper