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Expert panel discussing global population dynamics

Eight billion people, eight billion opportunities: A virtual panel discussion

Ahead of the “Day of 8 billion”, when the global population is set to reach its highest number to date, a virtual panel addressed global population dynamics and their potential for advancing sustainable development. 

The world population is estimated by the United Nations to have reached the 8 billion mark on November 15, 2022. A few days ahead of this special day for humanity, on November 11, Dr Bärbel Kofler, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, joined Dr Frank Swiaczny (Researcher, Federal Institute for Population Research – BiB), Catherina Hinz (Executive Director, Berlin Institute for Population and Development) and Jan Kreutzberg (Executive Director, Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung – DSW) in a virtual panel discussion about the opportunities and challenges that arise from this milestone. Former Assistant Director of the UN Population Division, Prof. Dr Thomas Büttner, chaired the discussion.

Global population development concerns families, children, youth and women, stressed Prof. Dr C. Katharina Spieß, Director of the Federal Institute for Population Research. In her welcoming remarks, she outlined the broad scope of the topic and its multiple linkages with other areas of development, such as family policy, education policy, labour market policy and social security policy. 

Unleashing the potential of a youthful population

In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, population development is a youth issue, as it is home to the largest youth cohort ever: more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 25. All these young people can contribute to advancing their societies on the path to sustainable development. However, to be able to do so they need an environment that allows them to tap into their full potential.

Dr Bärbel Kofler
Dr Bärbel Kofler

Dr Bärbel Kofler pointed out that the world – and especially the Global South – is facing many challenges as it aims to ensure good life prospects for children and youth.  These range from improving food security and good nutrition for children, especially newborns, to providing education and vocational training, to offering jobs and building social protection systems. She explained why the latter is increasingly important for BMZ:

The size of families has a lot to do with the issue of providing security for the elderly and the need for a rural workforce. If we discuss population dynamics, we need to better link these discussions with possibilities to improve access to social protection, especially for girls and women.

Dr. Bärbel Kofler

Far-sighted investments are needed

Catherina Hinz
Catherina Hinz

According to Catherina Hinz, it is well-documented which measures are needed to promote demographic change in the countries of the Global South and to improve their chances of harnessing a so-called demographic dividend, an economic upswing resulting from a favorable age structure of a population. For this, far-sighted investments in health, education, gender equality, family planning, and jobs are required, and they need to be made as quickly as possible. She points out that some African countries have already taken action: 

Senegal, for example, has invested heavily in education, especially for girls. This will have an impact on fertility rates in the future because in Senegal, women with secondary education have on average two to three children less than those without education.

Catherina Hinz

Jan Kreutzberg underlined the need for investments in family planning and gender equality. Access to comprehensive sexuality education and modern methods for family planning are important, for example, to prevent teenage pregnancies and all the consequences they may have for girls and young women, such as exclusion from school or lack of opportunities on the labor market.

Jan Kreutzberg
Jan Kreutzberg

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are a basic requirement for gender equality. And only when women’s rights to education and participation in the family and society as a whole are strengthened, there will be a sustainable demographic change.

Jan Kreutzberg

Reconciling population growth with sustainable development

Frank Swiazcny
Frank Swiazcny

Balancing the growth of the world’s population with sustainable development is another urgent topic that was addressed during the panel discussion. Dr Frank Swiaczny pointed out that population growth is not the main challenge when it comes to sustainability. In fact, the crux is the global imbalance in consumer behaviour and in the use of natural resources: close to half of the global CO2 emissions are produced by the ten percent of the world’s population with the highest incomes, while the poorest half’s contribution is negligible. 

Internationally, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an important approach to reconcile population growth, human development, and climate protection, and to realise equal opportunities for all.

Dr. Frank Swiaczny

Dr Bärbel Kofler explains why the BMZ’s feminist development policy is the best approach for implementing and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals:

Denying half of the world’s population, with all their skills and capacities, the opportunity to equally participate in all aspects of everyday life is not only unfair, but also something we cannot afford.

Dr. Bärbel Kofler

The three ’Rs’, namely rights, resources, and representation of women, are crucial for overall development progress. Only if women and girls can exercise their rights, have equal access to resources and are equally represented in all parts of society can the sustainability goals be achieved. Dr. Kofler announced that BMZ will gradually increase the share of funding that contributes to gender equality as a principle or significant objective from about 60 percent currently to 93 percent. As part of this increase, BMZ will double the funding that has gender equality as a principle objective to 8 percent within the current legislative period. 

In his concluding remarks, Prof. Büttner lauded BMZ for its explicit stance for gender equality. He then asked Dr Kofler to convey the ideas and suggestions from the other panelists to her ministry and the Bundestag. He thanked everyone for their valuable contributions and encouraged them to persist in their efforts: Reconcile population dynamics and sustainable development is possible but it will require time and determination.

Michaela Wilczek,
November 2022

Listen to the full panel discussion (in German): BiB – Podcast – Weltbevölkerung steigt auf acht Milliarden (

© BPA / Steffen Kugler
© Berlin-Institut
© BiB / Peter-Paul Weiler
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