Dispatch

03 May 2012

Royal Society Report Emphasizes Connections between Population, Consumption and Environment

Increased access to family planning called for, among other recommendations
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Sir John Sulston, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and Philip Parham shared their views on the report.

UNITED NATIONS, New York --- The 21st century is a critical period for people and the planet, with demographic and consumption trends posing tremendous challenges in a finite world. These conclusions, along with recommendations for moving toward a prosperous and flourishing future, are at the heart of a new report issued last week by one of the world’s oldest and most respected scientific organization, the Royal Society.

The Chair of the Royal Society's international Working Group, Nobel Laureate Sir John Sulston presented the key findings of the Royal Society Report People and the Planet - a wide-ranging, international study on global population, consumption and the environment yesterday. Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, and Philip Parham, Deputy Permanent Representative for the UK to the UN, shared their views on the report as well.

“Improving the wellbeing of a large and growing population, while ensuring the sustainable use of essential but limited natural resources, is one of the greatest challenges we face today,” said Sir John, as he gave a brief overview of the report’s findings.

Poverty eradication, education, the empowerment of women and girls, addressing the needs of young people and forging new paths to international cooperation are all key to addressing the challenges, the panelists agreed. All called for extending access to family planning to all women.

However, efforts to achieve population stabilization must be rooted in the principals of self-determination and the protection of human rights, Sir John said. He pointed out that more than 200 million women lack access to modern means of contraception. “That can be fixed – for about $6 billion,” he said. “It would be an extremely good use of aid dollars.”

“Demography is not destiny,” added UNFPA Executive Director Babatunde Osotimehin in his address. “Future demographic trends critically depend on today’s policies and choices that people make. Universal access to sexual and reproductive health care and voluntary family planning, investment in the education of youth with a particular focus on girls, and the empowerment of women can make a big difference.”

Greater equity, including for women and young people, was emphasized.

“The worst impact of the trends identified in the Royal Society report is likely to be on this group – those who traditionally bear the brunt of poverty,” said Mr. Parham. “Too often, girls and women are locked into a downward spiral by early marriage, early, multiple and unplanned pregnancies. We need to address this issue, and to improve levels of reproductive and maternal health.

“Enabling women to choose for themselves whether, when, and how many children to have will not only improve maternal and child health, but will also help us to deliver on other MDGs,” he continued. “That is why the UK Government and the Gates Foundation will host a family planning summit in London in July, to galvanize political support and financial commitment from a range of actors, to meet the unmet needs of women in the world’s poorest countries.”

The report includes nine key recommendations, including lifting 1.3 billion people out of absolute poverty, stabilizing consumption levels in developed and emerging economies, investing in reproductive health and voluntary family planning and recognizing the integral relationship between population and the environment. The report calls for including natural assets into wealth accounting and for the development of socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on material consumption growth. Its relase was timed to have an impact on deliberations at the upcoming Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development.