Top 10: the world’s most overpopulated countries

New index ranks countries according to the strains their population is placing on resources.

Research newly published lists the most overpopulated countries. When we talk about "overpopulation" (as opposed to population size), we are referring to the link between the human population and its environment. Therefore, it's not just the size or density of the population that matters, but how that population relates to sustainable resources.

The Overpopulation Index is thought to be the first to rank countries by these criteria -- looking at how dependent they are on other countries, and whether they consume more than they produce.

Here's the top ten:

Top ten overpopulated countries

According to these figures, the world as a whole is overpopulated by two billion. The geographical location of countries deemed overpopulated is interesting -- there are nine Middle Eastern countries in the top 20, and eight European. Despite popular perceptions of China and India, these countries come in much lower, at 29th and 33rd, respectively. This shows, again, that population size or density is not the key measure.

The UK comes in at a slightly less respectable 17th. Its self-sufficiency rating is 25.8 per cent, meaning that Britain could only support a quarter of its population -- about 15 million -- if it had to rely on its own resources.

It's worth noting at this point that overpopulation is a hotly contested issue. The index was compiled by the Optimum Population Trust, which advocates a voluntary "stop at two" policy on children in the UK, and has lobbied for stricter controls on immigration, saying that "immigration has brought no overall benefit to the UK". I won't get into these debates here -- you can read Philippe Legrain's excellent critique of the "Britain is full up" argument if you want the other side of the story on that particular point.

The key point here is sustainability. Even if population growth were to level off in the UK, we would still, by these measures, be unable to support ourselves unless the population shrank drastically, or food production grew. A situation where all imports disintegrate is unlikely, but improving food sustainability can only be a good thing.

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.