Over the last few months PSN, in collaboration with LSHTM, have held a series of Population Forums, which concluded today with a high profile event at the Houses of Parliament in London.
Background to the forums
Wider participation by media, NGO representatives and the general public in the population debate is regarded as essential since there is overwhelming evidence that rapid population growth poses substantial challenges to the attainment of the MDGs.
Yet population has been virtually ignored by policy-makers for the past decade.
Since the term 'population' became increasingly tarnished by the brush of 'coercion' and 'control' during the 1980s it has remained politically sensitive. The link between poverty and population growth has been downplayed and financial and political support for population stabilisation has diminished.
Population is now beginning to re-emerge in the media and into political discourse, most recently in relation to climate change issues.
Culminating in the Population Forums, Population and Sustainability Network (PSN) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) were eager to build on this growing interest and increase dialogue between policy, action (NGOs) and academic research on the topic of the population factor, about which many have remained silent for so long.The Population Forums
Each of the five forums was chaired by a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, with contributions from two distinguished speakers, and concluding remarks from a third speaker.
Topics addressed by the forums included:
The final Population Forum The Unfinished Agenda – from Research to Policy Action was held on January 30th 2007 at the Houses of Parliament in London.
Key figures from the fields of media, politics and business voiced their concerns about the effects of global population growth at a PSN event held at the Royal Geographical Society in London on 6th December 2006.
Raising the profile of population issues
Entitled Population Increase: the Greatest Challenge? the event was facilitated by Toby Aykroyd, PSN Chairman, and attended by an audience of 500 which included representatives of a wide range of organizations. It aimed to raise the profile of the population issue – particularly its impact on poverty, economic development, climate change, loss of biodiversity and international conflict.
The evening opened with a recorded message from John Simpson, renowned broadcaster and Senior Editor of the BBC’s International News, called away at short notice to conduct an interview in Iraq. He expressed his concern about how the population issue had seemingly all but disappeared from the agenda despite its great importance.Presentation by Richard Ottaway MP
Richard Ottaway MP, Chairman of the recent Hearings on population by the All Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster, gave the initial presentation.
Reviewing the impact of population increase on each of the Millennium Development Goals as set by the United Nations, he observed that few if any of these would be attained unless the rate of population increase was significantly curbed. This is widely acknowledged as a problem among developing country governments, yet there is still a high unmet demand for family planning services.Presentation by Lord Adair Turner
The main presentation was provided by Lord Adair Turner, former director general of the Confederation of British Industry, and Chairman of the recent Pensions Commission as well as trustee of the World Wide Fund for Nature.
Lord Turner began by discounting fears about rising levels of age dependency in many European countries, highlighting the inappropriateness of seeking to address this by encouraging higher birth rates. He then reviewed the role played in economic development by population growth - particularly contrasting the falling fertility levels in East Asia, which has enjoyed substantial economic growth over the last 30 years, with the high rates remaining in sub Saharan Africa where GDP per capita has stagnated or even shrunk in many countries.
This situation is likely to be exacerbated by climate change, itself directly linked to rising levels of population.
On a global basis, median projections suggesting a population increase of some 40% by 2050 may prove optimistic – making it all the more vital that the need for stabilisation is rapidly appreciated and acted upon.
Speaking at a PSN event on 28 February, Sir David King, the UK governments Chief Scientific Advisor, has predicted a very substantial impact of global population increase over the next few decades, with serious implications for environmental sustainability.
A Green Revolution is needed
Singling out three key factors, Sir David warned of the need for a Green Revolution in crop productivity at least equal to that of the last 40 years if the world's burgeoning population was to be adequately nourished.Climate Change
Climate change was another key corollary of population growth, with increases in mean temperatures causing widespread water shortages and loss of cropland. Rises in sea levels would also cause massive population displacements.A Mass Wave of Extinctions
One of Sir David's most disturbing prognoses concerned the impact of population increase on loss of biodiversity through habitat destruction, over-exploitation, pollution and climate change. Answering questions after his presentation, Sir David predicted a mass wave of extinctions.
The Population and Sustainability Network launched its New York debut as a registered UN partnership at a highly successful event at a meeting of the UN Commission for Sustainable Development (CSD 12) at the UN on 27 April.
A Message From New York: Re-stating the Population Debate
Organized in tandem with the UN Population Fund, and Chaired by Coordinator Catherine Budgett-Meakin, the launch was held to explain the aim of the new format PSN – which is to re-establish the profile of population growth centre stage as perhaps one of the two greatest challenges facing the world today – the other one being climate change.
Presentations were also given by Marta Benavides of IICP (El Salvador), Daisy Owomugasho (African Women’s Economic Policy Network) and Toby Aykroyd representing the PSN Steering Group.
The Impact of Population Increase on Sustainability
Another three billion people will be added to the planet over the next 50 years – each deserving the right to a decent standard of living. In many areas, this represents an absolute level of population increase that will severely compromise the environmental, social or economic goals of sustainability.
There is a severe shortfall in the level of resources and political priority given to this issue. In 2003 alone there was a $3 billion gap in developed country contributions to funding objectives of the 1994 Cairo UN Population conference. Yet there are still 350 million couples who would use family planning but do not have access to appropriate facilities.
Empowering the Reproductive Healthcare Movement
Extracting the Ostrich’s Head from the Sand
This evidence is so overwhelming that it must dispel the myth some governments and NGOs hide behind that population growth will somehow take care of itself as development advances. There is a self-evident contradiction in this approach. Whilst there is no doubt that there is a positive linkage between economic growth and declining fertility, it is generally the poorest countries that have the highest population growth rates, hindering seriously poverty alleviation. In such countries, the effect of economic progress will take longest to impact on population growth rates - a vicious circle will thus pertain in the absence of more substantive family planning provision.
Moreover, even with falling fertility rates elsewhere, the sheer volume of of population growth to date will lead to huge future increases in absolute levels.
Practical Proposals by PSN
As part of its contribution to helping tackle this unsustainable mismatch, the PSN tabled two proposals at the UN in New York:
The overall objective is that population planning should be seen not as low priority or even a topic to be avoided, but one which urgently requires fullest clarification and support.