What is the greatest dichotomy in life

Against the division of the world

The world population will grow rapidly over the next few decades. However, this fact receives too little attention in the debates on the major global issues of the future - climate change, resource security, global inequality. In most industrialized and developing countries there is a “demographic ignorance”, a lack of interest in the effects of global population developments. Above all, global population growth is dangerous: It is so powerful that previous efforts to contain climate change, increase resource security and sustainable development could become obsolete.

Which demographic developments can be expected? Why have they not been adequately perceived so far? How will they affect resource conflicts? What role does migration play in this? And what can be done?

The poorest countries bear the greatest burden

According to UN projections, the world population will grow by a further third by 2050, from the current 6.8 billion to 9.1 billion people, and 97 percent of this increase will take place in the poor and poorest countries. The population of developing and emerging countries is expected to increase from 5.4 billion to 7.9 billion people. The least developed countries will bear the greatest burden. Its population will double and it will remain extremely young. The median age (a figure that divides a population into an older and a younger half) will also increase in these countries, but in Uganda, Burundi, Afghanistan, Palestine and Yemen, for example, it will still be under 24 years in 2050.

In contrast, the population of the industrialized countries will initially stagnate; especially in the European countries (Germany, Italy and Spain), but also in Japan, Russia and South Korea, it will decrease by the year 2050. The median age in these countries will be significantly higher; after Japan, Germany and Italy are currently the second and third oldest societies in the world, with an average age of around 42 years. Overall, the working age population in Europe will decrease by a quarter, while the proportion of people over 60 will double.

The result of this regionally different development of fertility (the average number of children of women of childbearing age), mortality (mortality) and migration - the division of the world into areas with growing, young and shrinking, aging populations - is called "demographic Gap ”. 1 Although the trends have long been known and empirically proven, they do not receive the necessary political attention in either industrialized or developing countries.

No interest in population policy

On the part of the industrialized countries, there are probably two main reasons for this. For one thing, it is widely believed that global population growth is a transitory phenomenon. From a very long-term perspective, this assessment is correct because overall fertility has fallen sharply in recent decades (it has fallen from an average of 5.0 to 2.6 children per woman worldwide since 1950) and this decline will weaken from 2050 the growth of world population will be reflected. Until then - and this is the politically important development - the world population will continue to grow rapidly, and the next decades will be marked by historically unprecedented global population growth.

On the other hand, many people in the industrialized countries are convinced that population policy is a blunt political instrument and that the number of births cannot be influenced by political means. This argument may apply with regard to the attempts by industrialized countries to increase their low birth rate through family policy measures (in the short term). With regard to the reduction in high birth rates in developing countries, however, the argument is simply wrong, as the previous reduction in global fertility shows. In the long term, high birth rates can very well be reduced by improving the economic and social framework and through access to education, health care and family planning.

However, there is also skepticism about population policy on the part of the developing countries. In many countries, population growth is recognized as a development risk and a potential threat to internal stability, but at the same time a large and dynamically growing population in the classic power-political sense is often still viewed as a guarantee for national power and regional or international political influence. Accordingly, efforts by industrialized countries to reduce the number of births in developing countries are not perceived as an aid to sustainable development, but as neo-colonialist interventions with the aim of weakening the poorer states even further in terms of power politics. Whatever the explanation for the lack of interest in demographic developments and the rejection of population policy measures: Both of these factors also reduce awareness of the impact of population development on resource scarcity.

Which development path should be followed?

The demographic division of the world into growing and shrinking populations will have different effects on the scarcity of resources. The consequences for developing countries are obvious. These countries are faced with the problem of having to provide for and integrate rapidly growing numbers of people into the labor markets, and they must prevent competition for scarce resources from leading to internal and potentially violent conflicts. With regard to the scarcity of resources, the decisive factor is how consumption patterns develop. If the developing countries were to show consumption patterns similar to those of the industrialized countries, this would mean an immense increase in the consumption of resources and energy even if the population there did not continue to grow. But if the developing countries doubled their population by 2050, this would mean an eightfold increase in global resource consumption, assuming similar consumption patterns

For the industrialized countries, aging and shrinking raise other questions: Should the complex infrastructures be maintained despite the shrinking? How should the depopulation of structurally weak areas and domestic development disparities be countered? And how can international competitiveness be maintained in view of demographic aging? 3 Theoretically, the demographic development of the industrialized countries could also represent an opportunity, namely if a decreasing consumption of resources would offset the increasing demand for resources in the developing countries. So far, however, there is no convincing evidence for this. In particular, the influence of demographic aging on consumption patterns is difficult to predict. It could well be that aging in industrialized countries does not lead to a decrease, but to an increase in resource consumption. An example would be that the demand for living space in industrialized countries is increasing despite demographic change.

Both in the developing and in the industrialized countries, therefore, with regard to resource consumption, the question arises as to which development path should be followed and how growth-oriented this path should be. Some experts conclude that reducing global resource consumption is only possible by radically reducing material consumption. Apart from the practical-political question of how such self-restraints should be established and enforced, these proposals raise numerous normative questions, not least the one concerning the “right to development”.

Since a radical departure from the previous development path is not seriously discussed either in the industrialized or in the developing countries, it is to be expected that population growth will increase the scarcity of resources, especially in poorer countries. So under what conditions could population growth and scarcity of resources lead to violent conflict?

No simple explanatory models

Since the early 1990s, linear models have been developed in connection with the debate about environmental degradation and conflict, which assume direct causalities between scarcity of resources and political violence. The argument was that environmental degradation combined with the overexploitation of natural resources could trigger destabilizing internal or cross-border migrations, which could then lead to violent conflicts. The empirical proof of such direct relationships was difficult. This resulted in a search for more complex, non-linear models. These newer models assume that conflicts are based on a large number of economic, political and social factors and are not monocausally driven by scarcity of resources.

Representatives of “political demography” have long been pointing out the great importance of political framework conditions for the outbreak of conflicts. In particular, the ability of a government to mediate between rival groups usually determines whether internal conflicts arise or are prevented. A frequently cited example of such more complex causes for the outbreak of violence is the genocide in Rwanda in the early 1990s, during which hundreds of thousands of people fled to neighboring countries in a very short time. More recent analyzes see the causes of this genocide as a combination of the following problems: land scarcity, unequal distribution of land, extreme poverty, a division of labor based on ethnic differentiation, a lack of economic prospects and political mobilization by extremist forces.

In connection with population growth and climate change, the danger of "water wars" is often pointed out. However, empirical evidence supports the assumption that water scarcity tends to contribute more to (intergovernmental) cooperation than to conflict.4 At the same time, it is obvious that due to population growth, the amount of water available per capita will decrease significantly in the coming decades. Areas with already low precipitation and high population density will be particularly affected by the water scarcity. These regions mainly include the Middle East as well as North, East and South Africa.

In many places, the yields of the farmed land will also shrink: Population growth tends to lead to more extensive farming and overexploitation of agricultural land, which significantly and permanently reduces yields. Whether the decreasing per capita cultivated area and the declining productivity per unit area can be compensated by new production methods is a matter of dispute, especially since in the past decades the increase in yield due to the use of fertilizers, especially in grain production, has declined.5 It is foreseeable that in many countries with strong population growth, the area required for subsistence farming will no longer be sufficient. One consequence may be emigration to other parts of the country or to neighboring countries, to areas in which migrants hope for better living conditions.

Migration as a way out

In connection with population development and scarcity of resources, migration must therefore also be taken into account. In addition to fertility and mortality, these are the third component of population development.

As in research on the causes of conflict, there is now broad agreement in migration research that no direct connection between scarcity of resources, migration and violent conflicts can be demonstrated. Most researchers assume that only indirect effects can be identified, which result from the interaction with other factors - poor economic conditions, government failure or a lack of mechanisms for conflict regulation - and that migration plays an intermediate role.

Migration can also be viewed from a different perspective, namely not as a problem, but as a way out of a local competitive situation, as an “exit option” that can help contain resource conflicts. Ibrahim Sirkeci recently presented a model that understands migration as an individual striving for human security.6 The consequences of migration can be ambivalent. On the one hand, migration can trigger conflicts in a variety of ways and at different levels: At the macro level of states between countries of origin, transit and receiving countries, if the countries of origin encourage emigration but the neighboring countries do not want immigration; at the meso level of group relationships, when locals view immigrants as competitors for scarce resources; and at the micro level, individual contacts when immigrants are victims of xenophobic or racist violence. On the other hand, migration from areas affected by resource scarcity can also relax the situation there, as can be seen, for example, from the migration movements in the Sahel zone.

At least for the regions of origin of migrants, it can be concluded from this that the risk of violent conflicts is greater when the “migration route” is blocked.

Three conclusions ...

The relationships between population growth, scarcity of resources, migration and conflict discussed here allow three conclusions:

1. Global population growth will exacerbate existing resource shortages, and this will particularly affect the rapidly growing developing countries. On the other hand, it is uncertain whether the demographic aging and shrinking of the industrialized countries will have a relaxing or intensifying effect on the scarcity of resources.

2. Even if there is so far no empirical evidence of a direct and linear connection between resource scarcity and violent conflict, it is to be expected that it will become more and more difficult for poor countries to cope with demographically increased resource conflicts by peaceful means.

3. Migration can be a response to persistent resource scarcity. Their consequences are ambivalent, however: they can possibly trigger conflicts in the receiving areas, but represent a strategy in the areas of origin to escape the scarcity of resources, which would at least have a conflict-reducing effect in the areas of origin.

... and two recommendations for action

This results in two urgent recommendations for action for the industrialized countries: On the one hand, efforts for family planning and reproductive health in developing countries should be stepped up significantly and quickly. The poorest countries in particular need to be supported in their efforts to achieve sustainable population development. In fact, however, the contributions of the western industrialized countries to the promotion of family planning have not increased but decreased in the past 15 years. In 2007, the industrialized countries (adjusted for inflation) made available less than a quarter of the amounts agreed at the 1994 Cairo World Population Conference. There are currently over 80 million unintended pregnancies each year worldwide, according to the Bixby Center for Population in Berkeley. The Institute estimates that 200 million women would like to postpone or prevent their next pregnancy, and 100 million women do not use contraception because they do not have access to them. It is projected that the number of couples using contraception in developing countries will increase from 525 million in 2005 to 742 million in 2015.7 The industrialized countries should therefore invest significantly more funds, in particular women in the poorest and poorest countries in to enable them to decide for themselves when and how many children they want to have. Family planning alone can certainly not prevent violent conflicts, but foregoing family planning assistance would increase the risk of such conflicts in the long term.

On the other hand, when responding to migration movements from countries with scarce resources, the industrialized countries should bear in mind that such emigration can defuse potential conflicts and contribute to stability. Since most of the emigration from such countries remains in the region concerned (“south-south migration”), the industrialized countries should intensify their efforts to enable the receiving areas to cope with the additional challenges. This can be done in a variety of ways: through the targeted use of development policy and other political instruments, through national or internationally coordinated humanitarian aid or through the appropriate equipment of international organizations, in particular the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) - but also through greater willingness on the part of the Industrialized countries to accept a limited number of refugees in crisis situations and thus to relieve the southern receiving countries.

Dr.STEFFEN ANGENENDT works in the SWP's Global Issues research group.