The State of World Population 2001 The State of World Population 2001
Chapter 6: Action for Sustainable and Equitable Development

United Nations Population Fund

A New Consensus

At one time, "development" was understood to mean improvements in economic indicators such as gross national product, brought about by investment, aid, and other economic actions, largely by developed countries. Concerns such as individual well-being, the status of women, the health of children, and the state of the environment were considered secondary.

Jorgen Schytte/Still Pictures
Tuareg nomad plants tree seedling as part of a reforestation project in Mauritania.

Today, however, the international community recognizes that economic development; the state of the environment; the health of men, women, and children; and the status of women are all intricately intertwined. Development requires improvements in the lives of individuals, usually by their own hand, the status of women powerfully determines the state of development, and women require good reproductive health care for their status to improve.

This understanding has been articulated in consensus documents negotiated at a series of global meetings convened in the 1990s. These meetings dealt with environment and development in 1992, with population and development in 1994, and, in 1995, with social development and with women's rights. The consensus agreements are grounded in a series of international human rights treaties, starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (See Appendix).

Multilateral Environmental Agreements

Countries have entered into over 30 multilateral agreements addressing environment and the natural resource base. Arguably the most successful was the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, which mandated the phasing out of the manufacture and use of hydrochloroflourocarbon (HCFC) gases. After agreements on further details, two thirds of countries are on track to meet negotiated benchmarks. If current progress continues, the damage HCFC gases have caused to the atmosphere's ozone layer could be reversed within 50 years.

Other agreements have addressed hazardous waste management, oil pollution, desertification, endangered species, trade in ivory, fur seals, fisheries, tuna and whaling, among others. The most recent agreement (signed by 127 countries in May 2001 and up for ratification) seeks to stop or regulate the production and use of 12 specific persistent organic pollutants.

Agreements have had some success where technical and financial support has been mobilized, enforcement has been strict, loopholes under-exploited and political will strong. Many of the agreements, however, have not given due consideration to the how demographic trends will affect their implementation or to steps needed to empower and involve local people, particularly women, in finding solutions.

Initiatives Linking Population and the Environment

Around the world, a variety of organizations are engaged in activities that address both population and environmental concerns, by incorporating reproductive health information and services into existing environmental protection efforts, for instance, or including environmental education in reproductive health or population education programmes. Researchers are mapping the connections between a number of variables—environmental stress, fertility, migration, women's health and education status, and the push/ pull effects of economic decisions, for example. Partnerships and collaboration, among governments, international and local NGOs, international development agencies, and in some cases, the private sector, are increasingly important.

Box 13: Rio+10


Burkina Faso, with assistance from UNFPA, has created a programme to increase awareness of sustainability issues, including population education, among school staff and trained 1,000 secondary school teachers in use of the sustainability curriculum in secondary schools. One school has built a fish-breeding pond, a grove and a market garden, and created a project to measure pollution levels in regional waters and inform the public and authorities about its findings.1

In Kenya, World Neighbors is working with farmers and village community development committees to increase awareness and use of family planning, prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and improve food security through training in seed selection, soil conservation and other aspects of agricultural production. World Neighbors has helped one community establish a pharmacy, promote the growth and conservation of indigenous fruit trees, and establish a community cereal bank.2

In Madagascar, one of the 26 global "biodiversity hotspots", Conservation International, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Wildlife Conservation Society, CARE International and UNESCO have participated in implementing integrated conservation and development projects around the Andohahela National Park, in partnership with a regional NGO, Action Santé Organisation Secours (ASOS). Family planning education and services, community-based health clinics and mobile health service units are being supported along with forest and water management, eco-tourism, beekeeping, training in improved rice production methods, and environmental education. The project has also trained environmental educators and conservation agents to link family planning and environmental messages. In place of the earlier message that population growth undermines conservation, educators now stress that child spacing is important to health—a link with more relevance to individual women and communities.3

WWF has also developed a broader, regional partnership with ASOS, helping ASOS deliver primary health care and family planning services, along with environmental messages, in areas of the Spiny Forest ecoregion in the south of the country where population pressures are significant and deforestation considerable.

Another WWF initiative, using global information system technology, has mapped national population data with ecological data to determine linkages in the Spiny Forest among population growth, density and distribution (rural/ urban) and forest cover levels.4 This work confirmed a relationship between low rates of female literacy and high population growth, and between high cattle densities and high losses of soil fertility. They also helped identify areas likely to experience high rates of deforestation, given migration and maize production patterns.

In United Republic of Tanzania, the Jane Goodall Institute is working to stem deforestation and soil erosion and meet local needs for health, education and employment in villages surrounding Gombe National Park where there is high population growth and little economic development. The Institute is teaching women to be more effective household and resource managers as well as entrepreneurs, providing conservation education in schools and villages, training women in planting and managing fruit and palm oil trees (nurseries now exist in 27 villages), establishing woodlots that reduce the distance women have to walk for fuelwood, and offering technical support in sustainable farming practices. In cooperation with regional health authorities, preventive health care, family planning services and HIV/AIDS education are offered in the villages surrounding Gombe, and a micro-credit programme provides women with loans to start small, environmentally sustainable businesses.5


In the southern Himalayas of Nepal, the Tamakoshi Sewa Samiti project offers reproductive health counselling and care, environmental services, a micro-credit programme and other income-generating activities, including vegetable cultivation and sale, in 25 villages. Over 100 drinking water systems have been created, and more than 200,000 trees planted. Surveys in 1996 and 1998 found infant mortality in the project area to be 19 deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared to 79 nationally. Under five mortality is also lower: 38 per 1,000 children in the project area and 118 nationally. And contraceptive prevalence is higher: 36.2 per cent in the villages served vs. 26.5 per cent throughout rural Nepal.6

Latin America

In Ecuador, CEMOPLAF, an Ecuadorian NGO, with support from U.S.-based World Neighbors, has joined reproductive health and family planning services with agricultural and resource management efforts in 20 poor, indigenous rural communities where homes are built on steep hillsides, making delivery of services a challenge. As a result, the number of farmers practising soil conservation has doubled, to 50 per cent, and use of modern contraceptive methods has increased from 12 per cent to 41 per cent; 65 per cent of the users of the project's agricultural management services are women.7

In the Maya Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala, Conservation International is working to meet reproductive health information and care needs in 16 communities where the fertility rate is nearly 40 per cent above the national average. The Remedios project began in 1998 and has trained 45 community-based midwives and 16 rural regional health promoters in reproductive health, including birth attendance, family planning, and prevention of STDs including HIV. Community-based contraceptive distribution programmes are being established in each community. Educational materials incorporate traditions of the region's indigenous and mestizo populations.8

In Guanajuato State, Mexico, the Centro Para Los Adolescentes de San Miguel de Allende, an NGO working to improve adolescent reproductive health, runs a maternity and community health care hospital for low-income patients and also provides family planning counselling and contraceptives to rural communities. Environmental education and management—including construction of fuel-efficient stoves and latrines, reforestation, and preparation of medicinal herbs—have been integrated into in-school peer counselling.9 In 17 Mexican states, a government health agency, the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social, gives demonstrations on herb and vegetable garden cultivation, use of fuel-efficient wood stoves, composting and other environmentally friendly technologies at its comprehensive reproductive health clinics.10

North America

The World Wildlife Fund (as WWF is known in the United States) is working to mitigate the impacts of rapid growth around Nashville, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama, on river ecosystems.11 In the wake of a summer 2000 drought that dried up portions of the Cahaba River, the source of drinking water for Birmingham and its fast-growing suburbs, WWF is sponsoring a study of the river's nutrient levels and how they affect threatened and endangered aquatic life, including fish and mussels.

The drought led to severe water rationing and higher nutrient levels in the Cahaba—devastating to the river's species. These high nutrient levels stemmed from lax state water quality standards and poorly designed sewage treatment plants.

Results will be used to encourage Alabama to develop policies and standards on nutrient levels that will minimize the impacts of human population growth on the Cahaba River ecosystem. WWF is also partnering with a Tennessee-based conservation group to establish voluntary standards and best-management practices that contractors can use to protect aquatic biodiversity by reducing sediment that enters streams from construction of new homes, businesses and roads.

Needed Resources and Technical Assistance

As the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development emphasized, "Efforts to slow down population growth, to reduce poverty, to achieve economic progress, to improve environmental protection, and to reduce unsustainable consumption and production patterns are mutually reinforcing."12 Mobilizing the resources needed to implement the ICPD Programme of Action is therefore a key action to protect the environment, as well as to promote women's rights and sustainable development.

Box 14: Ensuring Availability of Reproductive Health Supplies

The ICPD estimated the annual resources needed to implement a basic package of population and reproductive health programmes in developing countries.

Reproductive health and family planning programmes were estimated to require $15.2 billion in 2000, rising to $19.9 billion in 2015. Selected HIV/AIDS prevention efforts were estimated to require $1.3 billion in 2000 and $1.5 billion in 2010 and 2015. Basic research, data and policy analysis were estimated to average over $400 million per year between 2000 and 2015 (varying widely in relation to the timing of censuses).

Total requirements were estimated at $17.0 billion in 2000 and $21.7 billion in 2015. Up to two thirds of these costs were expected to be met by developing countries, with the remainder to come from international development assistance.

These estimates included some HIV/AIDS prevention; it was recognized that additional funds were needed, including funds for treatment and care of people living with HIV. However, the epidemic has advanced faster and farther than the ICPD anticipated, and considerably more resources will be required to ameliorate the impact.

Other reproductive health service needs remain substantial as well. Maternal mortality has not declined at the rate proposed at the ICPD. Just under half of all births are still not assisted by a trained birth attendant. Funds are needed for transport in difficult cases and emergency obstetric care. There is also recognition of the need for higher priority to programmes for adolescent sexual and reproductive health, and the incorporation of men as clients and supportive partners in reproductive health care.

Estimates of resources needed to expand reproductive health services reflect projected increases in contraceptive demand. These were based on the growing number of people of reproductive age and continued reductions in unmet need— the number of women and couples who wish to delay or prevent a birth but are not using contraceptives.13 At the five-year review of ICPD implementation, a new goal was set—elimination of unmet need by 2015. This will require further resources and national and international effort.

Eliminating unmet need involves more than physical access to services. Many women do not practise contraception due to fears of side-effects of available methods, cultural concerns related to specific methods (e.g., changes in menstrual bleeding) or the disapproval of spouses or communities. Addressing these concerns will require investments to make a wide range of method choices universally available, support research to reduce side-effects of existing methods, and provide better training of counsellors.

Assessing the Costs of Inaction

Resources available for reproductive health and population programmes are well below the $17 billion the ICPD said would be needed in 2000. While developing countries are providing most of their share of needed resources, support from international donors is less than half of the $5.7 billion called for in 2000.

Shortfalls in resources for population have also started to affect data collection and research efforts, which are needed to allow countries to assess the impacts of development policies, monitor progress and prioritize programming.

The funding shortfall is already showing its effects: fertility declines have been slower than would be expected if more couples and individuals could have the family size they desire. The costs of delaying action will increase rapidly over time.

Environmental Paybacks from Population-related Investments

Programmes addressing population issues, women's empowerment, poverty eradication and environmental protection have important benefits; progress has been made in quantifying some of these. Policy makers need information on the returns to their investments in such programmes to set priorities for resource allocation.

Environmental returns from policies and investments in the social sector cannot be predicted with much precision, because of the difficulty of predicting the demographic, social, and economic consequences of a given policy and its interaction with other factors. For example, better female education is known to be closely linked with a range of social and economic benefits, but it is hard to be specific about how better education might change female labour force participation or economic growth rates.

Research in this area has focused primarily on policies that tend to reduce fertility, where the resulting slowing of population growth is seen as easing human stress on the environment. Some studies have tried to estimate the additional environmental impact of a single birth and its descendants. Others have contrasted the expected environmental impacts associated with diverging demographic scenarios.

Environmental 'Externalities' to Child-bearing

An "externality" is a cost or benefit to society at large of an action taken by an individual. The concept is most commonly applied to economic activity. For example, if a factory pollutes a river and the owner is not held responsible, the environmental cost to society is "external" to the owner's decision about how much to produce, and therefore how much pollution is produced.

Externalities can also be positive. For example, investment in research and development in one industry can benefit other industries. If investors cannot capture these benefits, it will lead to under-investment in research and development. Externalities are a useful guide to policy-making; in the examples used here, they might motivate a tax on pollution or public investment in research.

The externality concept can also be applied to child-bearing.14 The birth of an additional child results in costs and benefits to society, above and beyond those considered by the parents. Possible external benefits include a larger tax base to help pay for public pensions to the elderly or to share the costs of goods like national defence whose costs are relatively insensitive to population size. External costs might include additional public expenditures on education or health care, or a per capita reduction in the value of national assets like fishing or mineral rights.

A number of recent studies have estimated environmental externalities to child-bearing, all using global climate change as an illustrative example. While results vary widely, on balance they indicate that, in addition to other positive development impacts, environmental benefits from policies leading to lower fertility may rival the costs of the policies themselves.

The activities of each person, and their descendants, give rise to greenhouse gas emissions through direct or indirect use of energy and land. Each birth averted—all else being equal—may reduce the cost of climate change to society in two ways. First, total greenhouse gas emissions may fall, reducing the magnitude of future climate change and the resulting damage to society. Second, smaller populations should make it easier to comply with caps on emissions like those envisioned for industrialized countries by the Kyoto Protocol to the Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Estimates of the climate-related costs of child-bearing range from several hundred to several thousand dollars per birth.15 Their values depend on a wide range of factors. For example, a birth in a developing country where per capita greenhouse gas emissions rates are relatively low has, on average, a smaller impact than a birth in an industrialized country where per capita emissions are higher. For example, a birth in Africa might lead to climate-related costs of about $100, while a birth in the United States might lead to costs of about $4,000.16

Since the future costs of an additional birth are spread out over time—decades or even centuries—analysts must decide how much to value future costs relative to costs today. Future costs are generally discounted, but the appropriate discount rate is controversial. One study17 found that if a typical discount rate of 3 per cent per year were used (which reduces the cost to each succeeding generation by nearly half), the externality associated with a birth in the developing regions would be about $300. However if costs were valued equally in all years, the total externality would exceed $4,000 by the year 2100.

Other assumptions affecting the outcome include future emissions reduction requirements, the cost of reducing emissions, and projected population growth. Despite these uncertainties, it is clear that the costs of an additional birth will be substantial. One reason is that stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases will eventually require steep and expensive emissions reductions,18 while a smaller future population size would inevitably reduce the need for the most expensive reductions.

In comparison, the costs of social programmes, when converted into estimated costs per birth averted, are generally in the range of several hundred dollars or less. For example, one estimate19 puts the cost of education programmes in developing countries at less than $200 per birth averted. Estimates for voluntary family planning programmes range from $30 to $330 per birth averted.20

Expressing programme costs in per birth terms does not imply that fertility reduction is, or should be, their main objective.21 It simply provides a means to compare costs of an easily measurable component of comprehensive reproductive health programmes with potential environmental benefits. While there is considerable uncertainty in such estimates, it appears that costs are, at most, roughly the same as, and possibly less than, their potential climate-related returns.

Climate change lends itself to population externality studies because it is long-term, the impacts of emissions are independent of their geographical origin, and integrated economic-environmental models of the problem have been developed for two decades. Other environmental issues are much more dependent on regional particularities. For example, the effects of air pollution depend very much on local climate conditions, other pollutants in the air, and the characteristics of surrounding ecosystems and human populations.

Alternative Scenarios

A number of studies have analysed the likely impact of population-related policies on climate change by comparing alternative future scenarios. Here again the focus has been on the demographic consequences of population policy rather than broader economic and social consequences. Models of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions have been used to compare likely results under alternative population scenarios. These studies also indicate that policies resulting in more rapid demographic transition are likely to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the long run.

Box 15: Mortality Decline and Fertility Decisions

Some analyses start with a set of alternative scenarios for four broad factors which together determine carbon dioxide emissions: population, economic output per person, the amount of energy required to produce a unit of economic output, and the amount of carbon release per unit of energy used. Central "best guess" assumptions for the last three factors are considered with a range of scenarios for population, to calculate how much difference the variation in population paths makes to total carbon emissions. This result is then compared with similar sensitivity analyses on other variables.

Studies of this kind invariably conclude that emissions are most sensitive to assumptions about growth in per capita output, along with factors such as the carbon content of energy in industrialized countries. Population is found to be a major contributor to emissions over time frames of 50 years or more.22

The results depend on how different the alternative scenarios are from the central assumptions. If it is assumed that population is unlikely to differ substantially from the central path, then emissions will not appear to be sensitive to population.

On the other hand, holding other variables equal when considering alternative population paths may ignore important interactions between demographics, economic conditions and technological development. In particular, slower population growth may stimulate economic growth, leading to increased emissions that would offset reductions predicted by a simple population/emissions analysis.

However, a study23 examining historical data on population, income, and emissions found that, controlling for economic and technological conditions, population size did in fact appear to have a roughly proportional effect on emissions. Other studies have found that the relationship between population growth and economic growth would have to be implausibly strong to alter the basic conclusions of simpler analyses.24

Changes in Age Structure

Few analyses consider the effects of population ageing on future consumption and emissions. As populations grow older, the average household size tends to fall. Smaller households use energy at a higher rate per person than larger households use. Models based on numbers of households project higher carbon emissions than those based on numbers of people, as much as 30 per cent higher by 2100.25 But even such studies conclude that a more slowly growing population will lead to a substantial reduction in emissions.

Ageing may also influence emissions by affecting economic growth. There is a general consensus that an ageing population will place considerable strains on public pension and health systems.26 Researchers have found little evidence, however, that an ageing work force would be less productive than a young one.27

Analysis of recent experience in Asia supports the view that changes in age structure can have considerable impacts on economic growth.28 When the labour force must support many dependants (children and elderly), savings and economic growth rates are depressed. When fertility declines, workers may have fewer dependants to support, leading to a window of opportunity during which savings can increase, stimulating economic growth—if the country has an economic and institutional environment that allows it to take advantage of the opportunity.29 Over time, as the population grows older, the ratio of dependants to workers will increase again, ending the conditions that can provide an economic bonus.

In East Asia, for example, a rapid decline in the dependency ratio since 1975 is likely to have contributed substantially to the region's rapid growth.30 Slower falls in fertility and dependency ratios in South and South-east Asia have contributed to more moderate economic growth. In South Asia and South America, economic activity in 2025 could be 25 per cent higher than would be expected without considering age structure effects. In Sub-Saharan Africa, this "demographic bonus" could be up 50 per cent.31 Dependency ratios are likely to begin rising again in East Asia in 2010, and in South and South-east Asia by 2030, leading to slower growth.

The fact that policies that tend to lower fertility are also likely to substantially reduce climate change costs does not mean that slowing population growth is the most effective or most equitable means of mitigating climate change. Reductions in per capita emissions can be made through a variety of means, and are generally considered the most important and direct measures for reducing future emissions. Nonetheless, slower population growth would make the climate problem easier to solve, and capturing these long-term benefits requires investments in population policies in the immediate future.32

Recommendations for Action

Additional investments are needed to foster positive synergies in population, environment and development trends. Some priority actions are outlined below.

1. Implement the global consensus agreement of the International Conference on Population and Development.

The ICPD in 1994 reached agreement on action in the area of population and development; to promote sustainable economic growth, guarantee human rights, including the right to reproductive health, and protect the environment on which all life depends. The drive for full implementation will give an impetus to economic and social development that will directly and indirectly promote sustainable development and improve the quality of life of everyone.

Promoting women's social, economic and political participation advances human rights and equity, increases investment in health and education, strengthens civil society institutions, promotes economic growth, accelerates the stabilization of the world population and reduces pressures on natural resources. Ensuring women's participation in the design, implementation and monitoring of programmes is crucial.

Access to reproductive health services—including family planning, safe motherhood, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS—needs to be expanded, particularly on the frontier of development—including migrant communities and under-served urban and peri-urban settlements, and in sensitive ecosystems—where they have been historically lacking, and to local groups active in environmental management.

Securing reproductive health and rights will enhance efforts to provide women with education and employment opportunities. This will benefit both individuals and society. Educated women have more options—in employment, marriage and child-bearing—and more control over their lives. They also tend to have fewer children, and the children they have are healthier and better educated, planting the seeds for generations to come.33 Similarly, increasing women's economic opportunity and control of assets like land and credit is a key step in working towards gender equity and equality, and a clear route out of the cycle of poverty, high fertility and powerlessness that continues to afflict women throughout the world.

Box 16: Valuing Ecosystems

Slowing population growth by meeting the ICPD's goals would also provide essential time to find solutions to environmental problems—to, for example, bring on line and make widely available less-destructive sources of energy than fossil fuels and forest-cutting; to expand crop yields in environmentally sustainable ways; to provide clean water and sanitation to all who need it while not harming the water table or underground aquifers; to develop and share "green" consumer products that are less materials- and waste-intensive; and to both mitigate wasteful consumptions patterns and increase the consumption levels of the billions of people whose basic needs are still not met.34 Slower population growth would also give governments and civil society more time to plan for the needs of coming generations for health care, education, employment, sanitation and housing, along with clean environments.35

And the beneficial effects will multiply and accelerate if action to achieve slower population growth is combined with direct interventions to support the environment, like conservation of key areas of biodiversity; increased protection for threatened species; promotion of organic agriculture; reductions in excess consumption by individuals and institutions; policies that limit pollution and waste; and development of "green taxes" and elimination of environmentally destructive subsidies.36

2. Provide incentives for the dissemination, further development and use of more sustainable production processes.

Neither industrial nor developing countries make full use of available lower-impact "green" technologies in agriculture and industry. Extraction of mineral wealth is also accompanied by environmental destruction, which offsets at least part of its value.

No agreed standard exists for assessing environmental costs, partly because of the long time frames involved and partly because the costs are diffused in complex ways. Transition to sustainable technologies is often seen as costly and disruptive, and the benefits are discounted as slow or uncertain. Even when the environmental cost clearly outweighs transition costs, developing countries face resource constraints.

Combining subsidies with standards for industries and communities can amplify the economic signals that already promote cleaner and more-efficient production. Many developing countries and countries in transition need stronger fiscal and political structures to allow this process to operate. In other countries, however, competitive pressures are already stimulating producers and governments to promote more environmentally friendly policies. Subsidies that encourage environmental should be ended.

Providing countries with the information and technical assistance needed to adopt new technologies could significantly improve health, productivity and environmental quality at relatively low cost.

In developed countries, policy makers and the public need to be better informed of the local and global impacts of their produc- tion technologies and consump-tion choices, and the benefits gained from supporting sustainable development in developing countries.

Both consumers and producers need the incentives and options to move towards sustainable, less environmentally harmful consumption patterns.37 Goods and services should be produced in in harmony with natural systems (e.g., products made from sustainably grown natural resources).

Environmental taxes—charging for pollution, congestion and depletion—have proved highly effective in both industrial and develop- ing countries. Swedish air pollution taxes, Malaysia's effluent charges and Singapore's automobile taxes are well established and effective.

The greatest benefits would come from a shared North-South commitment to a sustainable world, with the industrialized countries accepting their share of responsibility for the consumption/environment dilemma and taking steps to mitigate it, both at home and abroad, through partnerships with developing nations.38

Among the major components of such an effort would be39:

  • Ensuring minimum consumption requirements and basic social services for all, as an explicit policy objective in all countries.
  • Developing and using technologies and methods that are environmentally sustainable for both poor and affluent consumers, including products that have low impacts, and clean energy sources (e.g., solar power and hydrogen fuel cells) in place of fossil fuels.40
  • Promoting awareness about the content and ecological and social impacts of goods, so consumers can make informed choices about what they buy.
  • Strengthening international agreements on managing consumption's global impacts, including ratifying accords on climate change and biodiversity—and ensuring sufficient funding to implement them effectively. 

Box 17: Progress Since the ICPD

3. Improve the information base for more-sustainable population, development and environment practices.

Policy priorities can be clarified when needs are documented and the returns for particular interventions and costs of inaction are clear. Information about available resources can speed implementation.

Better information about the true environmental costs of development activities and production methods, and the incorporation of some externalized costs into prices, would enable managers, policy makers and consumers to make decisions that are both economically and environmentally sensible. Subsidies protecting wasteful or destructive resource use could be eliminated and subsidies promoting sustainability could be advanced.41

For example, providing water at low prices for industries, which then return polluted water to the environment, has multiple negative effects. Low prices encourage wasteful use; the costs of pollution are paid by other industries dependent on clean water and eventually by the community in health losses; and the costs of clean-up are passed on to succeeding generations.

Economic analyses of population and reproductive health programmes have consistently found very favourable returns. Such analyses need to be improved, to include the returns from better education, lower infant, child and maternal mortality, poverty reduction, and greater economic and social participation by women.

  • Databases for population and development planning need to be further developed. These should include indicators of population levels and dynamics, and the use, availability and distribution of general medical and reproductive health services, clean water, sanitation and energy.
  • Community members should be involved in collecting local data on environmental conditions, resource use and service availability. One benefit of such efforts will be to incorporate local perspectives into programme monitoring. 

The United Nations is helping to develop worldwide databases on environmental conditions. Indicators for monitoring the balance between population growth and development, including environmental impacts, have been adopted as part of the Common Country Assessment procedure for more coordinated assistance to developing countries.

Jorgen Schytte, Still Pictures
Workers with different rice varieties at rice research institute in Viet Nam.

Regional monitoring programmes can measure the impacts of resource use and pollution that cross national boundaries. Population and environment ministries, NGOs and agencies need to share information and improve coordination to attain their common goals.

  • Global information systems (GIS) are being increasingly used to monitor changes in land use, resource availability and population distributions. Increased investment in these technologies will greatly advance understanding of environmental trends, vulnerable areas and the relations between population and the environment.
  • Modelling methods for population and environmental dynamics need to be further developed in the light of new information and improved computing technology. The Threshold 21 (T21) model, supported in part by UNFPA, has helped governments highlight key population, economic and environmental relationships.42 

Box 18: Donors Support Environmental Assessment

Studies of land use choices and environment impacts will also provide information for formulating strategies to improve resource use.43

4. Implement internationally agreed actions to reduce poverty and promote social development.

There is a global consensus on some key elements for progress: encouraging local participation in decision-making; addressing equity concerns, including gender equity and income differentials; and creating partnerships that include the private and the public sectors, NGOs and other representatives of civil society.

Rural development policies can reduce rural-to-urban migration and help mitigate the environmental impact of new rural settlements. Changes in land tenure policies can ensure equity, reduce resource and migration pressures and limit the clearing of new land for agriculture.

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