Why world population growth matters to Singapore

Vivienne Wee and Faizah Jamal Today Online 11 Jul 13;

World Population Day, July 11, passes largely unnoticed in this global city. However, we cannot ignore how a world population now reaching 7.2 billion affects all life on Earth.

Increasing demands for finite resources are aggravated by inequitable and unsustainable resource use. The extinction of species is disrupting the global ecosystem, adversely affecting climate and, consequently, our sources of food and medicines.

Singapore espouses a pro-natalist policy, reiterated recently in the White Paper. This plan for population growth is driven by a paradigm requiring a high old-age support ratio to provide for an ageing population. But what happens when those of working age, in turn, grow old?

In her speech to Parliament in February, Nominated Member of Parliament Faizah Jamal (co-writer of this letter) said:

“We act as if all that economic growth, all those companies and talent that we want to entice, all the goodies that we want in life, all the construction that is going to happen, do not, in fact, come from somewhere and have to end up somewhere, in the environment.

“Yet, there is no mention in the White Paper about the impact of so many people on our carbon footprint, our food security.”

This footprint will further strain environmental resources. Decisions made here have impact beyond Singapore, just as we experience the impact of actions elsewhere, including forest fires.

While it is the Government’s responsibility to provide infrastructure, its planning process does not prioritise environmental sustainability.

The proposed Cross Island Line will cut through the Central Catchment Nature Reserve, affecting species found nowhere else worldwide. Reclamation plans will affect dugongs, wild dolphins and the endangered green and Hawksbill turtles. Will Chek Jawa also disappear?

Plans for population growth in a finite environment manifest problematic values.

First, that non-human species can be destroyed whenever expedient; second, that forests and mangroves are useless because their benefits are not monetised; third, that policies adopted here affect only Singapore; fourth, that short-term interests outweigh long-term concerns.

Expediency also characterises the control of women as instruments for producing the desired quantity and “quality” of future generations. The inequalities that disadvantage women relate to inequitable resource use that benefits the few while harming others.

The pro-natalism practised here symptomises elitism. Reproductive preference is given to middle- and upper-class Singaporeans, including new Singaporeans categorised as talents, while those of low education and income are incentivised not to reproduce after two children.

This World Population Day, we must recognise we need an inclusive, just and sustainable world view, respecting the rights of all. As inhabitants of a shared planet, if we are not part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.

Vivienne Wee is an anthropologist and Research and Advocacy Director of the Association of Women for Action & Research. Faizah Jamal is an environmental educator and a Nominated Member of Parliament.

Fertility Surprises Portend a More Populous Future
WorldWatch 10 Jul 13;

On World Population Day, the Worldwatch Institute examines the UN’s latest demographic projections and their environmental implications

Washington, D.C.—World population reached 7.2 billion in mid-2013, according to United Nations demographers, with present and projected future growth propelled in part by unexpectedly high fertility in a number of developing countries. Based on current trends in global birth, death, and migration rates, the UN Populations Division projects a variety of future scenarios, with the three principal ones suggesting that world population will be somewhere between 6.8 billion and 16.6 billion at the end of this century. In the Worldwatch Institute’s latest Vital Signs Online trend, President Robert Engelman discusses these latest projections and what they mean for the environment.

The UN demographers determined that 82.1 million people were added to the world’s population in 2012—the highest annual increment since 1994. The new report, World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision, dispels a widespread expectation that population growth would end “on its own” sometime in the second half of the twenty-first century. Rather, the new medium-fertility or best-guess scenario suggests the most likely outcome is that world could gain more than 10 million people in the year 2100 and close the century at 10.9 billion. The new projections suggest a global population of 9.6 billion by 2050—about 700 million people more than the 8.9 billion the UN Population Division had projected for 2050 just 10 years ago.

“Although the biggest surprise in the report came from the projections of faster future population growth than had been expected, these numbers actually have their roots in a surprise about the present,” said Engelman. “Women in many developing countries are having more children today than UN demographers previously thought.”

Indeed, the UN authors reported that they had raised by a full 5 percent their estimates of current fertility in 15 sub-Saharan African countries—including Nigeria, Niger, Ethiopia, and the Congo—where family size is already among the highest in the world.

Although the reasons behind the higher-than-expected fertility in many countries are not fully understood, they correlate well with recent government reluctance to give priority to and fund family planning services in some of the world’s poorest countries. Spending on family planning services in developing countries by governments, wealthier donor governments and intergovernmental agencies has stagnated in recent years at around $4 billion annually. More than twice that is needed to reach the estimated 222 million women who are sexually active and do not want to become pregnant but are not using contraception. About two out of five pregnancies worldwide are unintended—in industrial countries as well as developing ones—and more than one in five births worldwide results from such pregnancies.

On perhaps the most positive note in the new projections, UN Population Division demographers believe that every country in the world is currently experiencing a longer life expectancy in the 2010-to-2015 period than between 2000 and 2010. They project continued improvement in life expectancy throughout the century, when all the new projection scenarios agree that life expectancy for the world will average 82 years, up from 70 years today.

Yet this rosy assessment of global longevity nine decades from now does not take into account changing environmental conditions worldwide. The UN demographers, like others who produce major population projections, decline to factor in the possibility that mortality trends will vary from recent history, making no mention of possible downward shifts in life expectancy due to climate change or any other environmental impacts of human activities.

Further highlights from the report:

The new report estimates that the world’s population is growing at about 1.15 percent annually, and—despite the higher-than-anticipated fertility in many countries—that the growth rate is continuing to slow.
Most human beings—an even 60 percent—live in Asia, with Africa the second most populous region, followed by Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, and Oceania.
Approximately 96 percent of the growth is occurring in developing countries, with Asia accounting for 54 percent of that growth.
The new UN “most likely” population projection foresees not just a long-lived human population of 10.9 billion in 2100 but one of 4.2 billion in Africa with a life expectancy of 77 years compared with 58 today.