With almost 10 billion human beings in 2050, world population growth is unsustainable in its current form, warned the US special envoy for climate, John Kerry. Since November there are officially more than 8 billion inhabitants on Earth, more than triple the number in 1950.
At a time when food and energy needs already threaten the planet’s resources and climate, this number will approach 10 billion (9,700) by mid-century, according to UN projections. “Personally I don’t think it’s sustainable,” Kerry said in an interview with AFP on Tuesday in Oslo.
“We have to solve the question of sustainability and the number of people we have to take care of on the planet,” he added. The Earth has warmed by around 1.2ºC since pre-industrial times, leaving little room to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5ºC.
Feeding 8 billion people currently generates more than a quarter of global emissions causes of climate change: around 40% are due to livestock and food waste, and the rest to rice production, fertilizer use and soil conversion and deforestation.
In a tragic boomerang effect, climate change also complicates food production with droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.
“I’ve been to a number of African countries where they’re very proud of their increased birth rates, but the fact is that it’s unsustainable for today’s lifetime, let alone when you add up future numbers,” said Kerry, 79. “I do not recommend a population reduction. I think we have the life we have on the planet and we need to respect it, but we could do better in so many ways,” she added.
Avoid traveling by plane, eat less meat, improve the insulation of your home: part of the climate efforts involves changes in habits. According to a report published on Friday by its environmental agency, Norway could reduce its emissions by 4.5 million tons of CO2 in the period 2024-2030 if its 5.5 million people abide by the dietary recommendations of their health authorities.
One of the main levers is getting carnivores to stick to less than 500 grams of red meat a week. But although researchers have calculated that it would take another five planets to provide all humans with the same diet as Americans or Brazilians, Kerry is not going to ask his compatriots to eat fewer hamburgers.
“I think those are people’s choices on their own, what they want to do, how they want to do it, but what I recommend is that we change our cattle feeding practices,” he said. “Now there are many, many new technologies and many new forms of regenerative agriculture. You can produce all kinds of agricultural products with less disturbance to the Earth, much less resource intensity,” she said.
But this former secretary of state and former presidential candidate in 2004 rejects top-down changes in everyday life.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to sacrifice a lifestyle to get what you need,” he said. “You can have a better lifestyle, eat better and feed more people if we stop wasting so much food. There are many options without having to tell someone ‘hey, we’re going to make you…'”