Skip to content
About the Royal Society

Does population matter?

12 July 2010

In 1993 the world’s population was 5.5 billion; it is now 6.8 billion and is due to hit 7 billion by early 2012.  A major new study looking at the implications of the changes in global population is being launched by the Royal Society with an expected conclusion in early 2012.

A debate has raged over the importance of population in relation to sustainable development over the past forty years, when concerns were raised about the impacts of growing populations.  Since that time, the world’s population has continued to grow and numerous scientists and public figures have expressed concern, including the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Sir John Beddington.  Although concerns have tended to focus on growing population numbers, issues of diminishing and aging populations have also become more prevalent and significant in certain parts of the world.

The Royal Society has decided that it is time for a comprehensive review of the science, looking at the extent to which population will be a significant variable in rates of progress towards sustainable economic and social development over the next thirty years and beyond.

The Chair of the Royal Society working group that will undertake the study, Professor John Sulston, said: “As the world’s population approaches seven billion, the Royal Society has chosen to explore the complex and contentious issue of population.“

“We will be examining the extent to which population is a significant factor in the momentous international challenge of securing global sustainable development, considering not just the scientific elements, but encompassing the wider issues including culture, gender, economics and law.  The Royal Society has brought together a working group of immense expertise, but also markedly different interests, to ensure that the end report will be comprehensive and cross-disciplinary and bring understanding of population issues to the cutting edge.”

The study, entitled “People and the planet: the role of global population in sustainable development”, is being launched on World Population Day at an event at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medic