Since Population Connection’s founding in 1968, we have not wavered in our steadfast commitment to stabilizing global population. In the 50+ years since our work began, the world has succeeded in slowing growth. In the U.S. alone, the fertility rate has dropped by 50%—from 3.4 births per woman in the early 1960s, to 1.7 births per woman in 2019. In 1968, only four countries in the world had a replacement rate of fertility (2.1 births per woman)—today, there are nearly 100.
Yet, despite this success, human population growth remains one of the starkest challenges facing our world today, with far-reaching consequences. In 2019, the accelerating effects of climate change became increasingly clear, as we witnessed historically destructive forest fires ravage many parts of the globe, received dire news about the imminent collapse of up to a million species, saw large metropolitan cities such as Cape Town, South Africa, come dangerously near to depleting their potable water supplies, and more.
Even as climate catastrophes strike, right-wing ideologues continue to limit access to modern contraceptives and reproductive health care for people around the world. By imposing harmful policies and curtailing U.S. aid, our opponents prevent access to care for people most at risk of climate shocks, including 218 million women around the world who have an unmet need for contraceptives.
But—hopeful news remained too, as the United Nations’ biennial population estimates showed that global population growth is continuing to slow. Our work is far from over, but thanks to the tireless support and activism of our members, we’re determined to make progress towards a more sustainable planet, starting with a stable population. Read on to see the “State of Population” in 2019, and how our programs—made possible by our members—fit into the trends and events of the past year.
2019 Population Projections
Thanks, in part, to the efforts of dedicated Population Connection members, last year brought some good news in terms of population trends and projections. The United Nations Population Division released its biennial population estimates and projections, updated with the latest demographic surveys and censuses, in the summer of 2019. Projected population numbers were down a bit from where they were in the 2017 revision.
These might look like small changes when presented as decimal points, but a difference of 300 million people in 2100 is nearly the entire population of the United States today! If we had stopped our grassroots efforts to put pressure on members of Congress to hold funding steady for international family planning programs, that funding might have been zeroed out by Donald Trump. There would have been more unintended pregnancies, more unsafe abortions, more maternal deaths, and more unwanted births. We are so grateful that you didn’t allow that to happen.
We know it can feel sometimes like population growth isn’t slowing down quickly enough, but it’s not because progress is stagnating. It’s because of a phenomenon called population momentum. The existing young age structure at the global level will ensure that world population keeps growing for the next few decades, regardless of fertility rates, because so many young people are preparing to enter their reproductive years and will begin having children of their own.
But, that’s not to say that fertility decline isn’t important! In high-fertility regions, especially, fertility rates will play a major role in future population sizes. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, population momentum only accounts for 42% of projected population growth between now and 2050. That means that family planning policy, investments, and services can play a huge role in how quickly and how large sub-Saharan Africa’s population grows.
As it stands, that region’s population is projected to nearly double between now and 2050, from 1.1 billion to 2.1 billion. Put another way, more than half of the global population growth projected to 2050 will occur in sub-Saharan Africa—the world region with the highest rates of poverty, preventable deaths, and children out of school (setting the vicious circle up to continue).
The most troubling part is that these projections assume continued fertility decline in countries where current fertility rates are above replacement level (2.1 children per woman). That’s where the work of Population Connection comes in. We are America’s collective voice speaking out in favor of increasing investments in international family planning so that people can make the childbearing decisions that are best for themselves. Those decisions almost always result in childbearing beginning later, pregnancies being spread farther apart, and family formation ending sooner.
Along with increased investments—from the United States, from other donors, and from national governments—in other aspects of global health, child survival, education, and employment, we just may help high-fertility countries achieve slower population growth, improving outcomes across the board.
As a national leader in the population movement, we owe a great deal to our passionate members. Whether they joined us back in the late ’60s when we were ZPG, or within the past year, Population Connection members have tirelessly volunteered their time and resources to raise awareness about global population issues. And we are deeply grateful!
In 2019, our members hosted 157 events in 30 states! Nearly 300 supporters volunteered to host film screenings, staff booths at Earth Day fairs, or distribute flyers at farmers markets, inspiring local community members from coast to coast.
Members’ dedication in spreading the word about population challenges reached an estimated 12,000 people, informing communities from Sacramento, California, to Longmont, Colorado. From Nashville, Tennessee, to New York City … and many more!
On behalf of everyone at Population Connection, we thank our volunteers for their unstinting work—and thank all of our 40,000 dues-paying members for supporting important outreach opportunities across the nation. We know that with our combined efforts, we can alert Americans about the critical need to stabilize global population at a level sustainable for Earth’s resources.
Population and the Environment
At 82 million people a year, global population growth continues to undermine efforts to improve food and water security and to ensure a sustainable future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.
In 2019, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that more than 820 million people suffered from hunger, or about one in nine people. Globally, two billion people lacked access to adequate food—more than 500 million of these people living in Asia (1).
The World Food Programme reported that more than 100 million people in 53 countries across the globe suffered from acute hunger requiring urgent food (4). Conflict and insecurity were the key drivers causing acute hunger, with 74 million people living in 21 countries and territories affected.
While hunger continues to plague people around the world, there has been a 300% increase in food crop production since 1970 (5). A third of our world’s land, and more than three-quarters of our freshwater sources, are dedicated to crop or livestock production.
Meanwhile, more than a quarter of land has degraded, causing a drop in food production. A third of the world’s fish stocks have been fished at unsustainable levels, and 60% have been fished at their maximal sustainable levels. More than half the world’s coral reefs have lost their live cover due to climate change, straining our oceans’ sustainability (5).
Even as we scour the oceans for seafood, high climate change scenarios project that a quarter of fish biomass may disappear from our tables in the coming years.
We’re struggling to keep pace with global population growth, and considering that one out of nine people go hungry already, we’re failing miserably.
More people, a growing global middle class, economic growth, and continued urbanization increase the pressures on our world’s food sources. Making changes to diets, efficiency, and technology—together with stabilizing global population—could reduce these pressures (3) and help ensure that more people gain access to adequate, nutritious food in the future.
Not only must we ensure that Earth continues as a livable planet for people—but it’s imperative for us to make way for the many other species that share our world. Recent reports show that we’ve done a terrible job so far, with up to one million species threatened with extinction, many within recent decades (5). More than 500,000 terrestrial species do not have sufficient habitat for long-term survival (5), having been squeezed out by population growth, agricultural expansion, and rapid urbanization (3).
Meanwhile, as we’ve increased greenhouse gas production 100% since the 1980s, we place species at higher risk (5). With just 1.5 to 2 degrees of warming, scientists warn that the majority of terrestrial species ranges will shrink profoundly. Even if you just don’t like bugs, you should shudder at the notion of 10% of these hardy creatures facing extinction due to climate change.
According to Professor Josef Settele for the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES):
Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed. This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.
As an organization and a movement, we certainly have our work cut out for us. Our mission has never been more important or urgent. To succeed in preventing greenhouse gas emissions, halting species extinction, and improving people’s lives the world over, we must stabilize global population.
Partner Spotlight: Conservation Through Public Health
Based in Uganda, Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH) improves the health of villagers surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one of the last natural habitats for the mountain gorilla. One key component of its health program is family planning—improving maternal and child outcomes while slowing human population growth and encroachment on gorilla habitat.
CTPH has seen great success from its family planning outreach programs, with a reported 200% increase in contraceptive prevalence in four of the parishes where the organization works. Furthermore, CTPH contributed to the fertility rate of Kanungu District dropping from 6.7 births per woman to 4.2.
Population Education is all about people—how many of us there are, how we shape the world around us, and how we interact with each other. Since 1975, our one-of-a-kind PopEd program has empowered young people to become future leaders for a more sustainable world by informing them about global population trends and human impacts. Through our K-12 materials, we encourage students to consider population pressures and to think critically about how they interact with the world around them.
Because of you, PopEd reaches three million young people annually. We’re the only nationwide program dedicated to providing professional training and resources for K-12 educators to teach population-oriented curricula in their classrooms. Through innovative, fun, and dynamic lesson plans and activities, students of all grade levels can make the vital “population connection.”
Our commitment to inspire, inform, and empower young people prepares them for civic engagement and helps them see the value in striving for a sustainable planet for future generations.
PopEd’s annual World of 7 Billion student video contest draws entries from all over the United States and increasingly, from across the world. In 2019, students submitted videos on one of three topics:
- Preserving Biodiversity
- Sustainable Resource Use
- Protecting Human Rights
An estimated 5,500 students from 43 countries and 47 U.S. states and territories entered. These young people are learning how to fight for a better future, thanks to you. Learn more about the high school winners of the 2019 World of 7 Billion video contest for each topic and watch their winning entries:
Ethan is a 10th grader at St. Joseph’s Institution International in Singapore. Ethan was inspired to submit a video in the Preserving Biodiversity category after visiting an urban farming site where he “learned about the importance of various different pollinators – particularly their usefulness in pollinating berries.”
In school, Ethan is intrigued by math and social sciences, but his favorite subject is “economics because it combines the skills from both these fields.”
Pitt Pongpittayapa and Kritin Vongthongsri are in the eleventh grade at Bangkok Christian College, Ruamrudee International School in Bangkok, Thailand.
They discovered the World of 7 Billion contest when looking for youth competitions online and immediately knew that Sustainable Resource Use was the right category for them. Kritin says, “people really need to see the importance of finding ways to preserve our resources and use them as efficiently as possible.” Nanotechnology was an easy choice of subject: Kritin has presented his research on silver nanoparticles at a conference at Oxford University.
Jade Christman is a senior at South Forsyth High School in Cumming, Georgia. She decided to focus her video entry on protecting human rights because she feels it is a very relevant issue in today’s world and basic human rights for all should be first step in bettering our world.
Jade is a member of several volunteering clubs to help give back to my community, such as Key Club, National Honors Society, and National Beta Club. She will be attending Georgia State University Honors College this fall where she hopes to pursue a career in biomedicine or neuroscience.
Fighting for Reproductive Health and Rights
Ensuring universal access to modern family planning methods is one of the most impactful tools we have for ending rapid population growth. All women, no matter where they live, must be able to choose whether, when, and with whom they have children. Investments in family planning are both cost-effective (one dollar spent on family planning saves more than two dollars in pregnancy-related care, for example) and deeply connected to the full empowerment of women and girls.
The U.S. plays a leading role in population stabilization efforts around the world by funding reproductive health care initiatives at the request of aid-recipient governments and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In fact, the U.S. has been the largest donor to international family planning programs since 1965. These funds are administered through grants provided to foreign NGOs by USAID and through an annual contribution to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
In 2019, Congress voted to withhold funding from UNFPA for the third consecutive year—a decision that has had dire implications for women around the world in the 150 countries where UNFPA works. Damaging cuts in international family planning funding by the current administration, coupled with undemocratic policies dictating what global health organizations can do with their own non-U.S. funding, have wreaked havoc on access to family planning, reproductive health care, and other global health initiatives across the developing world.
218 million women in the developing world want to prevent pregnancy, but have an unmet need for contraception. This is why we are urging Congress to increase funding for international family planning to $1.6 billion each year—an amount that represents the United States’ fair share of funding needed to satisfy this total unmet need. Of that $1.6 billion, $111 million must support UNFPA’s vital programs. Additionally, we urge Congress to pass the Global HER Act, which would repeal the Global Gag Rule and prevent any future President from unilaterally reinstating it.
Partner Spotlight: WINGS Guatemala
Women’s International Network for Guatemalan Solutions (WINGS) is a non-profit organization that provides quality reproductive health education and services, primarily to indigenous Guatemalans.
Since its founding in 2001, WINGS has reached 315,495 youth, women, and men with their sexual and reproductive health information and services. The organization estimates that it has prevented 286,625 unintended pregnancies, 1,614 infant deaths, and 103 maternal deaths.
The current Executive Director of WINGS, Dr. Rodrigo Barillas, joined Population Connection’s Board of Directors this year. Here’s what Rodrigo has to say about joining our Board:
WINGS’ and Population Connection’s mission are so intertwined, so aligned, that it truly was the perfect match for me, and what I’m passionate about. Especially because I am coming from the Global South where so many individuals, especially adolescents and women, face so many barriers that prevent them from fulfilling their reproductive lives.
Whatever we can do, all of us together, to prevent the millions of unintended pregnancies occurring worldwide, the better our world will be in its capacity to prevent environmental crisis and climate change, famine, water shortages, and poverty.
Grassroots Advocacy with the #Fight4HER Campaign
Fulfilling Population Connection’s mission requires removing barriers that prevent people from making their own reproductive health care decisions. Until every person everywhere has that right, in the United States and abroad, global environmental crises, poverty, and human rights violations will continue unabated.
Today, 218 million women in the developing world want to prevent or delay pregnancy but have an unmet need for modern contraception. As champions for reproductive rights, we work with the White House and United States Congress to increase international family planning funding to the level required to eliminate unintended pregnancy around the world—working to close the gap of the unmet need for contraception.
By empowering women and girls to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, we are also ensuring a future with healthy, equitable, environments and thriving ecosystems.
Advocating for reproductive rights hasn’t been easy. And the Trump administration has made these last few years more challenging than ever. Nevertheless, we’re not giving up!
Thanks to your support, our #Fight4HER campaign works to repeal Trump’s Global Gag Rule. With our sister organization Population Connection Action Fund by our side, we have mobilized thousands of people in support of the Global Health, Empowerment, and Rights (HER) Act to permanently repeal the harmful Global Gag Rule.