Population Matters for Sustainable Development (1-3)
In 2011 the world population surpassed the 7 billion mark and it will continue to grow. To improve the wellbeing of a large and growing world population, while ensuring the sustainable use of essential but limited natural resources, is one of the greatest challenges we face today. This report prepared by UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development (Brazil 20-22 June, 2012) highlight the importance of this link.
The link between sustainable development and population dynamics was recognized by the Rio Declaration agreed at the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development
(UNCED), held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and elaborated in the Programme of Action, which was put forward at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo in 1994. Both political declarations highlighted the importance of promoting human wellbeing in harmony with nature, and to this end emphasized the need for a two-pronged approach, notably sustainable patterns of consumption and production – which is the hallmark of the green economy – and policies that address population dynamics.
This report explains the critical linkages between population dynamics and sustainable development, and outlines a human-rights-based framework to address associated challenges and seize opportunities. The report was prepared in consultation with thirteen international agencies. It also benefited from the deliberations of a global science panel that was brought together by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in September 2011 to discuss the linkages between population and sustainable development, as well as a consultation with members of the Global Agenda Councils of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2012 on population and the water–food–energy nexus. The Luxemburg Declaration that resulted from the former, and the statement that was issued at the latter, are reprinted in the annexes to this report.
The broad consultations and in-depth discussions contributed to a report that provides a strong and credible basis for policy dialogues on sustainable development. This report informs the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, but it also bears important lessons for the discussions of the international development goals and the international development agenda post-2015.
The 21st century is a critical period for people and the planet, with demographic and consumption trends posing tremendous challenges in a finite world. These conclusions, along with recommendations for moving towards a prosperous and flourishing future, are at the heart of this report.
The Rio Declaration agreed at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), held in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as the Programme of Action agreed at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), held in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994 place humans at the center of development. Both declarations recognize and emphasize the need to promote human wellbeing and higher living standards, but at the same time they stress the need to do so in harmony with nature. To this end, both political declarations suggest policies that promote more sustainable patterns of production and consumption, which is the hallmark of the green economy, and policies that address population dynamics.
The pursuit of development is the pursuit of a better life and the ambition to improve human wellbeing.
Whatever the measure of human wellbeing – for example, the elimination of poverty and food insecurity, access to adequate clothing and housing, the enjoyment of health and education, and more generally capabilities and functionings – it is associated with the enjoyment of goods and services. While wellbeing is more than the satisfaction of material needs and desire, wellbeing is most fundamentally dependent on the consumption of goods and services. Adequate consumption does not only require a more balanced distribution of economic resources, which is an important challenge in an increasingly unequal world, but is also dependent on higher levels of production.
Social progress – improvements in human wellbeing – is dependent on higher levels of economic output, and higher economic output will place pressures on all natural resources – land, forests, ground water, oceans and the climate.
Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, which erode essential and irreplaceable natural resources, would ultimately undermine the very basis for economic growth and social progress. It is therefore important that the objective to promote social progress, which requires higher economic output, does not jeopardize the sustainability of the environment.
Efforts to achieve these balances – which are at the heart of sustainable development strategies – are strongly influenced by population dynamics.
The environmental impact of human activity is attributable to three principle determinants namely the rate of economic growth, the rate of technological progress and the rate of population growth. These determinants are recognized by the aforementioned international political declarations, for example, but also by the scientific literature. Despite the recognition of these determinants, past policies and the current debate have not adequately addressed these determinants and their inter-linkages.
The promotion of the green economy, which addresses two of these determinants – economic growth and technological progress – is only gradually receiving support, but efforts to address the third determinant –population growth – continues to receive little attention in the discussion. Other aspects of population dynamics, including changes in age structures and spatial distribution of people, have received even less attention. Some of the reasons for this are (i) the fact that population growth rates in the last two decades have been declining in most of the countries and the belief that the “population problem” has already been solved; (ii) the concern that some of the past policies implemented in order to influence population dynamics infringed on fundamental human rights and freedoms; and (iii) the sensitivity of the issues related with the ICPD Programme of Action.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 11/08/2012