Note: This is the 1997 edition of UNEP's Global Environment Outlook. If you are interested in more recent information, please see the 2000 and 2002 editions.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 4: Looking to the Future

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Human Health

Health and Population Projections

Taking into consideration various assumptions about health determinants, a world population of about 10 billion people by 2050 is projected in this study. However, if investments in health and social development are lower than assumed, this will have a negative impact on health and other factors that influence demographic trends, and more rapid population growth would therefore occur. Up to 2015, the increase in health and life expectancy may be hampered at local levels by shortages of food and water. But for the world as a whole, the factors enhancing improvements in health will probably outweigh the negative influences. (See Figure 4.24.)

Fertility rates are projected to decline further world-wide. Life expectancy is projected to reach a global average of just over 70 years by 2050, compared with 75 years or more today in industrial countries. The lower global average is due mainly to the persistence of poverty and the remaining large differences in income levels.

Figure 4.25 shows that a global transition to a healthier society will be possible. But many developing countries will lag behind the global average. The results also indicate a likely global decrease in importance over the next decades of health effects related to food and water supplies and to vectorborne diseases, although again with some regional variations. In addition, new diseases associated with environmental change might emerge. Also note that, for instance, chemical pollution effects have not been considered in this study.

The results of the study presented here suggest that improvements in health may well lead to lower population growth than derived from many other long-term (2050 and beyond) projections. Such a slower projected population growth depends heavily on a mixture of optimistic assumptions about investing part of the increasing wealth in health, the environment (including the agricultural and water sectors), and social services (including education).

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