Civil society, the UN system and other partners will join Governments at UN Headquarters in New York on Monday, 22 September, for the Special Session of the General Assembly on Population and Development. The Governments will gather at the highest political level to follow up on the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, to assess the status of implementation of the Programme of Action and to renew political support for actions required for the full achievement of its goals and objectives.
The special session marks the twentieth anniversary of the Programme of Action and provides an opportunity for the international community to respond to new challenges relevant to population and development (such as ageing and climate change) and to reinforce the integration of population issues into the post-2015 development agenda. The special session will be composed of plenary meetings and will feature statements by the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, Member and Observer States and observers, and five selected representatives of non-governmental organizations.
Two reports will inform discussions at the special session: a report on the operational review of the implementation of the Programme of Action, and an index report of recurrent themes and key elements identified during the sessions of the Commission on Population and Development, especially during the forty-seventh session in 2014, which focused on an assessment of the Programme of Action. The index report reviews statements highlighting the importance of human rights and a people-centred approach for the post-2015 development agenda and urging priority to goals of gender equality, empowerment of women, investment in young people, inclusive economic growth and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Key findings from the operational review emphasize the significant progress that has been made since 1994 in women’s equality, population health and life expectancy, educational attainment and reducing extreme poverty. The report also calls attention to the continued, critical needs to extend human rights and protect all persons from discrimination and violence; invest in lifelong health and education, especially for young people; achieve universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights; ensure security of place and mobility; build sustainable, inclusive cities; change patterns of consumption; and strengthen global leadership and accountability.
When 179 Governments met in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, 5.7 billion people were living on the planet. Today, the world’s population has reached 7.2 billion people. Despite slowing population growth, UN projections suggest that world population could reach 9.6 billion by 2050, with most of the increase concentrated in the poorest countries. The world’s population today is characterized by unprecedented diversity and change, reflected in patterns of fertility, mortality, migration, urbanization and ageing. The consequences of these major population trends present new opportunities and challenges not only for the achievement of the objectives of the Programme of Action and the key actions for its further implementation, but also for sustainable development overall as highlighted in the proposal by the Open Working Group for a set of sustainable development goals.
“There are very few factors that will shape the future global development situation as fundamentally as population patterns and trends. At the same time, the world is an increasingly complex place to live, with Governments facing quite different demographic opportunities and challenges ,” said Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General of UN DESA.
Population growth increasingly concentrated in Africa and Asia
The World Population Situation in 2014, a report released by UN DESA’s Population Division, shows that future population growth will be predominately concentrated in Africa and Asia, which will account for 90 per cent of the growth in the world’s population between 2014 and 2050. Approximately 40 per cent of global population growth will occur in the least developed countries of the world.
“There are very few factors that will shape the future global development situation as fundamentally as population patterns and trends.”
Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General of UN DESA
Yet considerable diversity exists in future population trajectories, driven mostly by differences in fertility. Population decline and the acceleration of population ageing are important concerns for many Governments. Between 2014 and 2050, the populations of more than 40 countries and major areas are expected to decrease. Europe as a whole is projected to experience population decline after 2020.
World population grows older as the number of younger people stabilises
The number of young people has grown rapidly in recent decades but is expected to remain relatively stable over the next 35 years. In 2014, there are 1.2 billion people aged 15 to 24. Today’s young people are healthier compared to their counterparts in 1994. They are also more likely to attend school, to postpone entry into the labour force and to delay marriage and childbearing.
The number and proportion of older people, in contrast, are expected to continue rising. Globally, the share of older persons (aged 60 years or older) in the total population increased from 9 per cent in 1994 to 12 per cent in 2014, and is expected to reach 21 per cent by 2050. The number of people over age 60 almost doubled between 1994 and 2014, and older persons today outnumber children under the age of five. Better policies are needed to ensure economic security in old age, to improve health care at all ages and to strengthen family support mechanisms.
Changing patterns of birth and death
Total fertility for the world had fallen to around three children per woman by 1994, compared to around 4.5 children per woman in the early 1970s. In 2014, total fertility for the world had reached around 2.5 children per woman. More than 90 per cent of Governments now support family planning programmes. However, only a few countries have met even a minimal benchmark of a 50 per cent reduction in the unmet need for family planning. Increased efforts will be needed to provide universal access to voluntary and high-quality family planning information, counselling and services for all countries of the world.
Declining fertility rates have also been driven by expanded opportunities for women and significant declines in infant and child mortality. Worldwide, the risk of death for children under age five fell by 40 per cent between 1994 and 2014. Likewise, life expectancy at birth increased worldwide from 64.8 years in 1990-1995 to 70.0 years in 2010-2015. However, the gap in life expectancy between the more developed regions and the least developed countries remains large at 17.1 years.
“We still have a lot of work to do in order to meet the agreed targets for life expectancy and for infant, child and maternal mortality,” said John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division.
The world becomes more urban and more mobile
More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, rising from 2.3 billion people in 1994 to 3.9 billion in 2014 and is projected to grow further to 6.3 billion people by 2050. The rapid growth of urban populations presents challenges to sustainable urban planning and good governance. Urban policies that improve access to education, health care, housing and other services, mitigate environmental impacts, and expand economic opportunities, are needed.
“We still have a lot of work to do in order to meet the agreed targets for life expectancy and for infant, child and maternal mortality”
John Wilmoth, Director of UN DESA’s Population Division
The number of international migrants worldwide reached 232 million in 2013, up from 154 million in 1990. There are more people living outside their country of birth than ever before, and it is expected that the numbers will increase further. With international migration increasingly recognized as an enabler of social and economic development, increased efforts are needed to ensure regular, safe and orderly processes of migration.
Population trends matter for the post-2015 development agenda
During the upcoming special session of the UN General Assembly commemorating the Cairo conference, the international community will have the opportunity to forge clear links between the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, and the setting of the post-2015 global development agenda, including goals and targets for sustainable development. This new development agenda must take into account numerous demographic factors, including the impacts of population size, growth and decline, the needs of children, youth and older persons, and the reality of people’s mobility both within and between countries.