Overpopulation a serious threat says Bertelsmann Report

December 13, 2007

SOURCE: PSN & Bertelsmann Stiftung

A major report published this month by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a German research institute, polled the opinions of 9000 respondents in United States, Russia, Japan, Germany, UK, France, India and Brazil. Rapid population growth was one of the issues highlighted as a key concern by the opinion poll on world power.


Credit: UN Photo/B Wolff

A worldwide poll

The Bertelsmann Stiftung study seeks to reveal popular perceptions of global discourse and ideas concerning "Who Rules the World", as the Foundation put it in the title of the report.

Within the discussions that examine the perceived global super powers of today and the future, the respondents positioned overpopulation as the fourth most serious threat faced by the world today, following climate change, terrorism and poverty.

Which global threats predominate in people's views vary from country to country. The concerns about overpopulation and poverty were recorded to be higher in India, while Russians cite the dangers of war, the Chinese resource scarcity and the French religious fundamentalism.

The researchers spearheading this report say that they want to measure current perceptions in global power politics but also to assess how the public foresees the near future and its most pressing issues.

PSN welcomes the report

PSN acknowledges the critical importance of the views of civil society and welcomes this report which cites overpopulation as a major global concern.

Further information is available on the Bertelsmann Foundation website.

PSNs Population Forums conclude at the Houses of Parliament

January 30, 2007


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.

Credit: PSN


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:

  • Population, poverty and the MDGs
  • Gender, women's empowerment and universal access to education
  • Contraception and links with improvements in maternal and child health
  • HIV/AIDS and population - joint up working?
  • Environmental sustainability and population growth
  • States and individuals: population and the discourse of rights

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.

PSN holds event at the Royal Geographical Society

December 6, 2006


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.

Credit: PSN


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.

UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor speaks out at PSN event

February 28, 2006


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.

Credit: UN Photo/Martine Perret


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.

Network launch in New York as a UN- registered Partnership

April 27, 2004


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

The reproductive healthcare movement currently focuses on women’s rights and the fight against HIV/AIDS. Whilst these aims are entirely valid, on their own they lack sufficient weight to secure adequate funding and political priority. Yet the key aspect of high population increase – its impact on economic development – remains largely unacknowledged and unpromoted. Over last two decades clear evidence has emerged of how high levels of population increase can hinder poverty alleviation - compromising capital formation, productivity growth and investment in healthcare and education.
This generates high unemployment, fueling emigration from rural areas to towns, adding to poverty and alienation. Internationally it swells the rising tide of economic refugees and creates conditions of poverty and alienation in which extremism can flourish. Ironically, just three days of expenditure from the global defence budget would restore the funding shortfall needed to meet the Cairo objectives – providing the best possible return on investment in our future security.

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:

  1. A fast-track project to collate quantified information on the social, environmental but above all the overarching economic impact of unsustainable population increase.
  2. The results from the research project to be used in a proactive strategy to inform policy in all key sectors: governments, NGOs, the business sector (a so far neglected ally of huge potential), education and, last but not least, religious institutions.

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.