To Canadian journalist and author John Ibbitson, global population growth has been slowing for some time, and it likely won’t hit the 11 billion people by 2050 as envisioned by the United Nations.
Ibbitson explained his take on the world’s population at the 37th annual Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) general meeting in Winnipeg on Feb. 5.
As the author of Empty Planet, which explores population growth, Ibbitson believes the world’s population has been on pace for some time to top out at nine billion by mid-century. Then by 2100 it’s to decline back to about 7.5 billion, roughly where it is today.
All this, he said, would be detrimental to farming, as producers around the world could be growing more food than what the global population could consume.
On top of that, a growing number of countries would be contending with declining populations, creating an older populace, and with steadily fewer people in a country’s tax base.
“This will be unique. This will be a case where we deliberately through our own free will chose to decline our population,” he said, citing a growing number of demographers who have questioned the UN Population Division’s forecast.
“This decline will be permanent. It will never change, because for the very simple reason there will be fewer babies born than the year before,” he continued.
Ibbitson listed several countries from the developed and developing world that are below the 2.1 per cent replacement fertility rate required for a country to maintain its population, including Canada at 1.5. A few of the others were Germany at 1.5 per cent, China 1.6, the United States 1.7, Brazil 1.8 and South Korea at less than 1.0. He noted India is officially at 2.3 per cent, but population experts believe the country’s actual rate to be at 2.1.
While developed countries such as the U.S. took 100 to 150 years to slip to these low birth levels, numerous countries in the developing world have fallen to or below 2.1 within a generation.
Ibbitson said urbanization is the root cause of this global population phenomenon, with more than 55 per cent of the world’s people now living in urban centres. There are four aspects he listed to this:
- In economic terms children are no longer assets, but liabilities;
- Women are more educated;
- Traditional religions are weakening;
- As is the family clan.
Combined, these have led couples to have fewer children and do so later in life.
The key is to continue levels of immigration numbers or to increase them, Ibbitson said, pointing to Canada’s growing population is thanks to immigration.
As of October 2019, Canada’s population was almost 37.8 million, increasing by 0.6 per cent annually, according to Statistics Canada. Ibbitson predicted the country’s population could exceed 50 million by 2050 should immigration equal at least one per cent of the population.
However, he stressed Canada must avoid the xenophobic reactions the U.S. and several European countries are currently experiencing towards immigration.
“We have to show immigration works inside your community, on your street, in your school and in your workplace. How you personally profit by having high levels of immigration,” he explained.
Ibbitson pointed to Hungary as one example of where “nativist attitudes” have led to zero or near-zero immigration, which has fuelled a population decline. Government policies to essentially bribe women to have babies have failed and the rate of depopulation in Hungary has picked up speed.
For Canada he suggested temporary foreign workers, such as those working on farms, should be permitted to obtain permanent resident status in much the same way foreign students are allowed.