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LONDON, ENGLAND, August 2, 2001: Researchers say the world's population could stop growing sooner than expected. They suggest it could peak within the next 70 years, and then decline. By the end of the century, they believe, the number of people alive could be 8.4 billion -- about one billion fewer than the United Nations has predicted. But there will be wide regional variations, and far more elderly people than there are today. The report appears in the magazine Nature. Their best estimate predicts the world population will peak at nine billion in 2070 and drop to 8.4 billion by 2100. Populations are already declining in Europe. But, "the populations of north Africa and sub-Saharan Africa are likely to double" over the same period, the authors say, "even when we take into account the uncertainty about future HIV trends. "Owing to an earlier fertility decline, the China region is likely to have around 700 million fewer people than the south Asia region by the middle of the century. They also stated, "At the global level the proportion above age 60 is likely to increase from its current level of 10% to around 22% in 2050. "By the end of the century it will increase to around 34%, and extensive population ageing will occur in all world regions."