A few days ago I discussed a recent National Academy of Sciences report reviewing the persistently high fertility rates in Africa and what that means for population growth in the region. Although this week's Economist does not refer to that NAS study, it nonetheless has a lengthy story on Africa's population that is very useful for readers. They interview only one demographer--John Bongaarts from the Population Council--and since he was one of the people responsible for the NAS report, I am going to infer a connection. No matter, this is important stuff, and cannot be spread around enough.
If the new projections are right, geopolitics will be turned upside-down. By the end of this century, Africa will be home to 39% of the world’s population, almost as much as Asia, and four times the share of North America and Europe put together. At present only one of the world’s ten most populous countries is in Africa: Nigeria. In 2100, the UN believes, five will be: Nigeria, Congo, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Niger.
Although much could change in the next 85 years, none of those countries is a byword for stability or prosperity. A quadrupling of their population is unlikely to improve matters. If nothing else, the number of Africans seeking a better life in Europe and other richer places is likely to increase several times over.And the story offers a nice and brief explanation of what needs to be done to slow down Africa's population growth as much as possible:
There seems to be just a handful of prerequisites for a falling fertility rate: a modicum of stability and physical security, some education (especially for women) and wide access to contraception. The faster these conditions are met, the faster birth rates come down...Counter-intuitively, war, famine and other disasters tend to boost population in the long run, by keeping fertility rates high. It is only when parents are confident that their children will survive that they risk having fewer of them.It is not yet clear to me that these patterns of population growth were actually taken into account in the climate change accord that was finalized yesterday in Paris. Clearly the world needs for economic development in Africa to be fueled by solar and wind energy, not by fossil fuels.