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.