CNBC Explains

We’re on track to triple our use of natural resources by 2050

Key Points
  • Human population projected to reach 8.5 billion people by 2030
  • Business models remain too resource-intensive and wasteful
  • Middle class set to expand by 3 billion people
Is Africa ready for its population boom?
Is Africa ready for its population boom?

In just over thirty years the world's population will grow by 2.5 billion, the equivalent of doubling the population of China and India.

According to the World Resources Institute, the growing global population will not only mean an unprecedented demand for goods and services but will also put considerable strain on business.

This is largely due to a global middle class that is set to expand by 3 billion people (ten times the population of the United States) in twenty years.

Analysts are branding current business models 'too resource-intensive and wasteful' to meet future demand and remain within the planet's environmental limits. If businesses can't limit their resource consumption they won't last.

Some of the world's biggest companies such as Apple and General Motors have responded by joining the RE100, a collaborative initiative committed to renewable energy.

Still, if the current level of environmental degradation continues it will risk economic and human security.

Under the greatest threat is Africa.

Workers load palm oil seeds onto a vehicle at a plantation area in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Palm oil is used in many everyday goods and their plantations cause deforestation in protected areas.

The continent is facing such a dramatic surge its populace that by the end of the 21st century it will make up 36% of the world's population. Western NGOs and governments believe this population boom will have negative effects on the region's food and water security.

Activists, however, argue that Africa does have the resources to sustain its 2 billion people and that the concerns of Europe and the United States are borne out of a desire to preserve those resources for their own people instead.

If Africa does need a solution it's called a demographic dividend; whereby fast population growth creates a young workforce that drives economic growth.

But for both Europe and the US, who at the turn of the century consumed 80% of the world's resources, there is a need to start creating both a circular economy, where materials are reused rather than wasted, alongside a sharing economy.

With big business seemingly under threat, natural resource consumption and population growth will likely be at the top of world leaders agendas very soon.