Population Matters for Sustainable Development
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.
Population – an overarching issue
By 2050, the world’s population will reach 8-11 billion. In addition to this population growth, billions of people will continue to migrate from rural to urban areas; more than half of the world’s population already lives in cities. These demographic changes influence every aspect of the world’s development. As a result, there is an overwhelming need to rethink the development equation and to further incorporate the population issue into global debates.
In an era defined by severe challenges to achieving water, food and energy security, understanding how population growth and rapid urbanization impact health, growth and resource scarcity is of critical importance. Understanding these linkages provides opportunities to reinvent how people and communities can thrive sustainably. Globally, the most pressing challenges and far-reaching decisions – from poverty reduction to business investment – hinge on understanding the world’s demographic trends and their consequences.
Today, one out of seven people continue to live in extreme poverty and suffer under-nutrition. Combating poverty and raising living standards of a growing population depends on a favourable structural change and rising productivity, as well as full and decent employment in the agricultural, industrial and services sectors.
With land, water and energy emerging as major constraints to future economic growth and social progress, failure to promote more sustainable patterns of consumption and production will significantly increase pressures on all natural resources. These vulnerabilities are most pronounced in the world’s least developed countries, which have the highest poverty and population growth rates, the weakest production and governance capacities, and already face significant water, energy, food and infrastructure shortages.
According to the World Economic Forum’s latest edition of the Global Risk Report, current global population trends are a key and systemic risk to sustainable development and economic growth.
Risks of inaction
Failure by government, business and civil society to address population dynamics in their efforts to promote sustainable development will
• Threaten water, food and energy security;
• Jeopardize economic growth, social progress and social security:
• Negatively affect health and life expectancy.
• Undermine a capacity to mitigate and adapt to climate change;
• Encourage displacement and migration; and
• Heighten the risk of political instability and conflict.
These efforts must be complemented by increasing investment and productivity in the agricultural sector, which encourages the sustainable use of land, water and energy; ensures equitable access to essential resources; and lends special support to smallholders and women. Investment opportunities also abound in the farming sector. Sustainable agricultural development is essential for poverty reduction and food security, and is an important driver of overall development.
A shift is occurring around the world that can be harnessed to reap benefits from the demographic dividend.
Countries that reduce fertility and slow the growth of the youth population are able to increase investment in human, physical and natural capital and promote higher and more sustainable economic growth.
The systematic use of data on population trends is essential for the public and private sector to seize the opportunities associated with population dynamics.
Migration is largely driven by economic and social disparities, but it can also help people respond and adapt to changes in environmental conditions.
Likewise, if countries plan for – rather than react to – urbanization, they can anticipate and address many associated challenges. In urban areas, essential infrastructure, goods and services, including housing, water, sanitation, energy, health and education, can be provided at lower costs per person. Smart urbanization can lead to considerable energy savings in housing and transport and contribute to greener and more liveable cities. The private sector plays an important role in supporting the development of sustainable cities, and in creating scalable innovative solutions to address efficiencies in water, food and energy.
The way forward
To achieve the necessary policy change and effectively integrate population and demographic policies in the sustainable development agenda for the 21st century, change needs to happen now. With 2012 being the UN’s International Year for Sustainable Energy for All and with the Rio+20 Earth Summit taking place in June, policy makers have the opportunity to use such international processes to further develop understanding of how sustainable population growth and achieving water, energy and food security can go hand in hand.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, E-mail:email@example.com, 08/09/2012