The combination of increasing levels of population and consumption is changing the planet’s ecosystems at an unprecedented rate and scale, with rates of biodiversity loss posing a major threat to human well-being. Population dynamics, including population growth, density, urbanisation and migration, are important underlying causes of biodiversity loss, with human demands for food, energy, land and other natural resources placing ecosystems under increasing stress.
Population growth and density are often particularly high in areas where there is the greatest biodiversity, and therefore the greatest threat of biodiversity loss. While conservationists acknowledge the role of human population dynamics as an underlying driver of declining levels of biodiversity, few conservation strategies directly address the issues which lead to patterns of population growth, such as barriers to family planning information, rights and services.
Population, Health & Environment programmes
By improving reproductive health rights, and services, and therefore responding to the unmet need, we can significantly reduce unintended pregnancies. This lessens the risk of environmental impacts and enhances the potential for societal resilience to climate change, water scarcity, food insecurity, the loss of biological diversity, and related threats. Indeed, the World Health Organization has said, “Family planning is key to slowing unsustainable population growth and the resulting negative impacts on the economy, environment, and national and regional development efforts.” Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues, but as interrelated issues, with the conservation sector responding in an integrated, rights-based manner, together with the health sector.
Population, Health & Environment (PHE) programmes take a pragmatic and holistic approach to these interconnected issues, by integrating reproductive health actions with conservation actions promoting sustainable livelihoods. PHE programmes are particularly appropriate for the many marginalised rural communities relying directly on healthy ecosystems for their food and water security, livelihoods and building materials. Integrating reproductive health and conservation livelihood actions creates synergies improving both community and ecosystem health. When projects address the interactions between people, their health, and their environment, it makes conservation programmes more effective, sustainable, and cost effective than traditional vertical programmes. The Network’s project, A Re Itireleng, is one such PHE project which the Network uses in its advocacy actions.
In 2016, the Margaret Pyke Trust, coordinator of the Population & Sustainability Network, became a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Created in 1948, the IUCN is the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network, harnessing the knowledge, resources and reach of 1,300 member organisations and some 15,000 experts. In addition to the Margaret Pyke Trust, fellow Network members Blue Ventures, Conservation Through Public Health, the Endangered Wildlife Trust and PHE Ethiopia Consortium are also IUCN members. Collectively, these IUCN members are seeking to change global conservation policy, to recognise the importance of improved reproductive health and rights.