We’ve alluded to the UN’s latest population predictions a
couple of times already in the last couple of weeks here on Mercatornet. Our
editor, Michael Cook, wrote a great article on population decline in which he mentioned the problems with the UN’s predictions
and linked to Fred Pearce’s fairly scathing analysis of the UN’s models.

The major problem with the UN’s approach is that it has
revised upwards the projected growth rates of the world from its predictions in
2008 despite the fact that the current actual world population and growth rates
are lower than that predicted two years ago. So in effect the UN has predicted that the future growth rates will be higher than it
predicted at a time when the actual growth rate and population was higher. The trend is down, expect in the projections. It appears that the UN
in 2008 assumed that world fertility was heading inexorably towards 1.85
children per woman; while in its latest projections the number has been revised
upwards to 2.1 children per woman – the population replacement level. As Pearce states:

“The assumption now is that countries with higher fertility
rates will fall to the 2.1 figure and not below, while those below will rise to
reach it.”

This is despite the fact that there is no known case of a
population growth rate declining to replacement level and remaining there. It
also seems a big stretch to see European countries, Japan and China raising
their fertility levels to 2.1 anytime soon.  Thus, the UN seems to be making some fairly
problematic assumptions in its global population projections.  Pearce argues that the UN should explain why
the higher level of 2.1 children per woman was imposed upon the projection

This is the problem with treating the pronouncements of the
UN as gospel. It is a political organisation made up of fallible humans which
has its own agenda to run. However, in pushing its agenda, the UN is using its flawed projections
to justify its position.  As we can see
in this BBC story about Nigeria.  

According to the UN’s projections, the population of Nigeria
will reach 730 million by 2100 and will be the third largest in the world
behind China’s and India’s.  The UN special
adviser Jeffrey Sachs is “alarmed” by this projection. (Although Chinwuba Iyizoba would disagree.) Mr Sachs told the AFP
news agency that:

“It is not healthy. Nigeria should work towards attaining a
maximum of three children per family”.

Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria agrees with this goal of course. (As
an aside, isn’t the idea of Planned Parenthood to help people “plan” their
parenthood, whether they want to have three or thirteen children? Isn’t
supporting an “optimum” number of children somewhat dictatorial?) 

So, we have a UN official arguing for a
policy (interestingly, a policy that China seems to be moving away from) based upon the UN population projection that has some serious question
marks hanging over it. Does this perhaps give us an insight as to why the projection was revised to
include the 2.1 figure?  After all, it’s easier to get countries to enforce a change in policy which you advocate when you can scare them with the consequences if they don’t follow your advice.  I can’t help but think that there will be
more stories like this in the near future – some country is projected to become
hugely overpopulated by the UN, therefore that country must indulge in some
sort of population control policy advocated by the UN. Does the projeciton justify the policy, or does the policy justify the revised projection? 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...