New Index Highlights Most Overpopulated Countries

July 11, 2010 • Daily Email Recap

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For release Thursday, July 8


Singapore is the world’s most overpopulated state, followed by Israel and Kuwait, according to a new league table ranking countries by their degree of overpopulation. The UK is 17thin the table.

The Overpopulation Index, published today by the Optimum Population Trust to mark World Population Day, July 11, is thought to be the first international “league table” to rank countries according to the sustainability of their populations – the extent to which they are living within their environmental means.

It examines data for over 130 individual countries and concludes that 77 of them are overpopulated – they are consuming more resources than they are producing and are dependent on other countries, and ultimately the Earth as a whole, to make good the difference.

The Middle East and Europe are the most overpopulated regions, with respectively nine and eight countries among the 20 most overpopulated. China and India, despite being bywords for overpopulation, rank lower, at 29th and 33rd respectively. The world as a whole, meanwhile, is overpopulated by two billion – the difference between its actual population and the number it can support sustainably, given current lifestyles and technologies.

The calculations have been made possible by advances in the methodology of ecological footprinting, which measures the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the resources and absorb the waste of a given population or activity and expresses this in global hectares – hectares with world-average biological productivity.

The index uses data contained in the latest Ecological Footprint Atlas, produced last year by the Global Footprint Network and based on figures for 2006. Data was available for over 130 states. The atlas assesses the ecological footprint and biocapacity (renewable biological productivity) of a country on a per capita basis. The index measures the proportion of a country’s average per capita footprint not supplied from its own biocapacity to determine how dependent it is on external sources.*

A UK citizen, for example, has an average ecological footprint of 6.12 global hectares but because of the size of the population, their “share” of national biocapacity is only 1.58 global hectares. This gives the UK a self-sufficiency rating of 25.8 per cent – the proportion of its footprint it derives from its own resources – and a corresponding dependency rating of 74.2 per cent. If it had to rely on its own biocapacity, the UK could therefore sustain only a quarter of its population – around 15 million – and at current consumption levels is “overpopulated” by more than 45 million (see table).

Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, is notable by its relative absence from the index. The population of Africa as a whole is currently living within its limits, with a self-sufficiency rating of 107 per cent.

OPT chair Roger Martin said: “Some people may argue that in a world of international trade, national self-sufficiency doesn’t matter. We think that’s a very short-sighted view. You don’t have to be a little Englander or an eco-survivalist to conclude that in an era of growing shortages – food, energy, water – being so dependent on the outside world puts us in a very vulnerable position. With the rest of the world, including many countries much poorer than the UK, supplying three-quarters of our overall needs, it’s also morally questionable.

” ‘Overpopulation’ is a much used and abused word, but we believe the index helps to anchor it firmly in the realm of sustainability – of people living within the limits of the place they inhabit. I think the index also clarifies what we really mean by sustainability and how important human numbers are to the concept.

“To reduce our impact on the planet, we need to think about both numbers of consumers and how much they each consume, and the UK is doing exceptionally badly on both fronts. Had we published this calculation last year, my understanding is that the UK would have been in 19th position. In terms of numbers – and therefore in terms of sustainability – we are still moving in the wrong direction, both in the table and in reality. It’s time we woke up to the fact that the UK has a real population problem.”


Mr. Martin added: “There is a long history of estimating how many people the world can support, some of it extremely fanciful. Ecological footprinting, however, has developed rapidly in recent years and is now beginning to produce probably the best data we have ever had. The index uses this data to provide a compelling picture of not only where we are but where we need to be. And where we need to be, both globally and nationally, is clearly significantly fewer, and consuming less each, than where we are.”

*For further explanation and technical notes, see index (appended). For details of ecological footprinting see Individual data was not available for some countries.

**The index only covers countries where footprint exceeds biocapacity. For countries in which the reverse is true, and which currently have a self-sufficiency rating of 100 per cent or more, see list below.

See www.optimumpopulation.orgor telephone 020 8123 9116.

Roger Martin can be contacted on 01749 672180

Somalia (105.2%), Cambodia (105.5%), Africa (106.3%), Panama (107.1%), Senegal (109.4%), Gambia (109.4%), Botswana (110.1%), Lithuania (110.2%), Venezuela- Bolivarian Republic of (113.7%), Niger (114.2%), Kyrgyzstan (118.1%), Ecuador (121.2%), Sudan (126.4%), Sierra Leone (129.4%), Chile (132.1%), Lao People’s Democratic Republic (132.9%), Mali (136.8%), Estonia (140.1%), Russian Federation (142.5%), Nicaragua (145.3%), Norway (145.4%), Latvia (157.3%), New Zealand (159.0%), Myanmar (160.7%), Côte d’Ivoire (174.8%), Cameroon (185.1%), Solomon Islands (185.3%), Chad (192.3%), Guinea (200.6%), Mauritania (203.0%), Colombia (206.5%), Papua New Guinea (219.1%), Oceania (220.9%), Latin America and the Caribbean (222.8%), Liberia (224.8%), Eritrea (225.9%), Peru (226.9%), Argentina (234.9%), Finland (235.7%), Zambia (244.6%), Madagascar (270.9%), Namibia (290.4%), Canada (296.6%), Paraguay (321.8%), Guinea-Bissau (335.4%), Angola (355.1%), Congo- Democratic Republic of (361.6%), Central African Republic (585.7%), Bolivia (803.9%), Congo (1372.7%)

NOTES FOR EDITORS:OPT is an environmental charity, think-tank and campaign group, aiming to increase awareness of the environmental impact of population growth through campaigning, education and research. It was founded in 1991 by the late David Willey. Its patrons are: Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and wildlife film-maker; Sir Partha Dasgupta, Frank Ramsey professor of economics, Cambridge University; Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies, Stanford University; Jane Goodall, founder, the Jane Goodall Institute, UN Messenger of Peace; John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health, University College, London; Susan Hampshire, actor; Dr. James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory; Aubrey Manning, broadcaster and professor of natural history, Edinburgh University; Professor Norman Myers, visiting fellow, Green College, Oxford; Sara Parkin, founder director and trustee, Forum for the Future; Jonathon Porritt, former chair, the UK Sustainable Development Commission; and Sir Crispin Tickell, director of the Policy Foresight Programme, James Martin Institute for Science and Civilisation, Oxford University.

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