|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Royal Society of London Study ‘People and the Planet’
With rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption, it was more urgent than ever to unravel the conundrum “what will happen when we run out of space and resources?,” experts warned today as they introduced a Royal Society of London study on how best to seize the opportunities — and avoid the harmful impacts — of population changes.
“Our paramount challenge today is to meet the needs of human beings while protecting the intricate balance of nature,” said Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), during a Headquarters press conference where he and Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston presented findings from the report People and the Planet, which investigates the links between global population and consumption, and the implications for a finite planet.
Dr. Osotimehin said the global study, which, among other things, calls on the most developed and emerging economies to stabilize and then reduce material consumption levels, and urges political leadership and financial commitment to bolster reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes, should provide vital input towards the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 20 to 22 June.
Last year, he continued, the world population had passed the 7 billion mark, and by the middle of the century was expected to grow to 9 billion. If those estimates held, the population would need more food, housing and access to basic services. The solution — the path to sustainable development for all — required dramatic changes in behaviour, as well as investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructure. It also required broad commitment to social justice and equity, he said.
“Indeed, providing for future generations while protecting the environment means not just moving towards a green economy, but promoting a rights-based approach and acknowledging shifting demographics,” Dr. Osotimehin said, emphasizing that the future demographic trends depended on today’s policies. For its part, UNFPA would continue to support voluntary family planning and reproductive health, and focus on young people and adolescents, especially young women and girls. Such measures would help improve peoples’ well-being, reduce maternal and child mortality, as well as non-communicable diseases.
Dr. Sulston, who chaired the Royal Society’s working group that compiled the report said: “The twenty-first century is clearly a critical period for people and the planet.” Continued population growth coupled with unprecedented changes in demography and unchecked consumption had led to profound changes in societies, both human and animal. The Rio Conference was an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to define humanity’s future “and we want the report to inform that process”.
He highlighted other recommendations and observations, noting that population and environmental issues must be considered together; demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international summits, such as the Rio Conference and subsequent meetings. In addition, inequality must be reduced, economic systems should be improved, and more focus should be devoted to key policy areas, including economic development, education, family planning and health.
“Inequality lies at the heart of what we need to achieve moving towards sustainable development,” he continued, calling for equality of access to resources, education and family planning for the more than 200 million women worldwide who wanted to make their own choices in such matters. Studies had shown that some $6 billion a year could provide a family planning framework as a voluntary option. “Taking big steps to overcome the challenges we may face in the future” did not have to mean changes in the quality of life for richer countries; indeed, through technological advances to drive recycling or reduce carbon dioxide emissions, consumption patterns could be altered and inequality reduced.
Responding to questions, Dr. Sulston said science could enhance human future, yet, while it could mitigate the damage man was causing to the planet, science alone was not the answer; it must be embedded in a good socio-economic framework if it was to deliver the needed benefits to all.
He also said that if the aim of Rio was to pave the way to an equitable future, population and the burdens borne by women could not be ignored. Providing an “equal and flourishing future” for all meant that policymakers must “once again step into the breach” to shore up national education, nutrition and health-care systems, and ensure that women could make informed decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health.
Further on that point, Dr. Osotimehin announced that the Government of the United Kingdom was preparing to host in July a high-level meeting in London to reinforce the global commitment to family planning from a rights perspective.
* *** *For information media • not an official record