Unsustainable consumption

We believe that addressing both population and consumption is necessary for sustainable development. Patterns of consumption and production (including the efficiency with which resources are used) and numbers of people (population) influence demand for and pressures on natural resources. In this way both population and consumption are key underlying drivers of environmental change and key to humanity’s capacity to achieve health and well-being for all, within planetary boundaries.

Population trends, alongside consumption patterns and efficiencies, set the scale of the global development challenges we face. These issues shape the number and location of people who need access to clean water, food, health, education and other services, and resultant environmental impacts. For these reasons we refute the common and outdated perception that the solution to the world’s pressing environmental and development challenges is about either population or consumption. We believe that this simplistic assumption is unhelpful; both issues must be considered simultaneously.

The vast majority of future population growth is projected to take place in the world’s poorest countries, where per capita consumption rates are many times lower than the developed world. Despite these much lower consumption rates, higher population growth rates will inevitably exacerbate the challenges these countries already face when seeking to alleviate poverty, ensuring food and water security, and provide adequate health and education services for all.

To lift the growing numbers of people out of poverty, the world’s poorest will need to consume more, and at the same time, the world’s more affluent will need to consume less if we are to avoid further breech of planetary boundaries.