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The Population Division of the United Nations biennially issues detailed population estimates and projections covering the period 1950–2050. The most recent revision of these estimates and projections, the 2002 assessment, was released in February 2003. At irregular intervals, the Population Division also publishes long-range projections. The most recent of these, covering the period up to 2150, was issued in 2000, based on the 1998 assessment. On 9 December 2003, the Population Division released the preliminary report on a new set of long-range projections, dovetailing with the 2002 assessment, that extend over a much longer time span: up to 2300 (http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/longrange2.htm). Unlike previous long-range projections, which, apart from China and In-dia, were prepared for large regional groupings only, the new projections are elaborated separately for 192 countries. Given the enormous uncertainties of the character of demographic trends over such an extended period, the information content of these projections is somewhat elusive. However, they are expected to be used to provide the demographic input for long-range models of global climate change.

Long-range population projections also serve to demonstrate the unsustainability of certain seemingly plausible assumptions as to the future course of particular demographic parameters. In the present case, for example, the high-fertility projection, reflecting a sustained total fertility rate at the relatively modest level of 2.35, by 2300 would yield a population of some 32 billion in the countries now classified as less developed. Or, in a yet more extreme exercise 0/reductio ad absurdum, maintaining constant fertility at present rates would result in a population size of some 120 trillion in the countries now classified as least developed. Apart from the “high fertility” and “constant fertility” models just cited, the projections are calculated for three additional instructive variants: “low fertility,”“medium fertility,” and “zero growth.” Underlying each of the five variants is a single assumption on mortality change: expectation of life at birth creeping up, country-by-country, to a 2300 level ranging between 88 and 106 years. International migration is set at zero throughout the period 2050-2300 in each variant. Thus the projections are unabashedly stylized and surprise-free, providing a simple demonstration of the consequences, in terms of population size and age structure, of clearly stated assumptions on the future course of demographic variables.

Reproduced below is the Executive Summary of the preliminary report on the UN long-range projections presented to a UN technical working group on long-range projections at its December 2003 meeting in New York and slightly revised afterward. A full final report on this topic by the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat will be published later in 2004.