Press Release

Countries agree to accelerate action to fully implement historic plan on population and development, emphasising importance to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

1 April 2019

Agreement at 52nd session of the UN Commission on Population and Development calls for strengthening implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action, adopted 25 years ago in Cairo

New York, 1 April–UN Member States today reaffirmed their commitment to implementing the goals and objectives of the Programme of Action, adopted at the landmark International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994. In a declaration, countries agreed that the full implementation of the Programme of Action is crucial for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals contained in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The 52nd session of the United Nations Commission on Population and Development opened on 1 April at UN Headquarters and is continuing until 5 April. During the Commission’s meeting, countries will examine gains that have been made in implementing the Programme of Action as well as the gaps and shortfalls in achieving its goals and objectives. They will also establish how its implementation contributes to achieving relevant Sustainable Development Goals.

“When we look at targets on poverty in the least developed countries, or on child marriage or people living in urban slums, while the percentage of affected persons may be declining, their number is still rising”, cautions Ms. Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General.

Important gains and significant shortfalls in the implementation of the Programme of Action

According to the reports of the UN Secretary-General, the world has witnessed significant progress in implementing the ICPD Programme of Action, adopted 25 years ago. Examples include greater access to sexual and reproductive health care, reduced child and maternal mortality, increased life expectancy, and advances in gender equality and women’s empowerment.

“While it is right to celebrate our achievements, we must also prepare for a world with a population that is larger, older, more mobile and more urbanized than ever before,” notes Mr. Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Between 1994 and 2019, the total fertility rate fell from 2.9 to 2.5 births per woman. However, fertility levels remain high in sub-Saharan Africa (4.8), Central and Southern Asia (2.4), Oceania excluding Australia and New Zealand (3.4), and Western Asia and Northern Africa (2.9).

Since 1994, the under-5 mortality rate fell by more than half, from 89 to 41 deaths per 1,000 live births. Yet, a child born in sub-Saharan Africa today is more than 15 times as likely to die before age 5 compared with a child born in the more developed regions.

The global maternal mortality ratio, despite significant gains, is still above the target established in 1994.

“At its core, ICPD is about recognizing that people’s rights, their choices, and their well-being are essential components required to achieve sustainable development,” says Dr. Natalia Kanem, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. “Twenty-five years of evidence and practice continue to support this consensus.”

Access to sexual and reproductive health-care services key for sustainable development

Use of modern methods of family planning has risen markedly. Globally, among married or in-union women of reproductive age who express a need for family planning, the proportion for whom such need is satisfied with modern methods of contraception increased from 72 per cent in 1994 to 78 per cent in 2019. Nonetheless, in 44 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, less than half of women’s demand for family planning is being met by use of modern methods.

Globally, the birth rate for those aged 15 to 19 declined from 65 births per 1,000 women around 1994 to 44 per 1,000 currently. The highest levels of adolescent childbearing are found in sub-Saharan Africa (101 births per 1,000 adolescent women) and in Latin America and the Caribbean (61).

According to UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador Ashley Judd, the keynote speaker, “sexual and reproductive health of girls and women are at the heart of poverty eradication and sustainable development”.

Importantly, the UN reports highlight the importance of ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services for reducing levels of maternal and child mortality. Typically, such policies lead also to a reduction in the birth rate.

Improving education quality and coverage and expanding access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services helps countries to reap the potential gains from the demographic dividend.

Global population is ageing, with important regional differences in timing and speed

In the 25 years since countries met in Cairo, life expectancy has increased substantially. Since 1994, global life expectancy at birth rose from 65 years to 72 years. However, the gap in life expectancy at birth between countries in the more developed regions versus least developed countries, while it narrowed by 7 years since 1994, remains 15 years today.

By 2050, the proportion of persons aged 65 years or over is projected to reach 28 per cent in Europe and 23 per cent in Northern America. Many older adults, especially in developing countries, are unable to meet their basic expenses. As the number of older persons continues to grow in all regions of the world, so does the need to address the increased incidence of age-related frailty and the provision of high-quality health care, while enabling individuals to live longer, healthier and more productive lives.

Future population growth will be concentrated in urban areas of Africa and Asia

Today, 56 per cent of the world’s population resides in urban areas, a share that is projected to increase to 68 per cent in 2050. About 90 per cent of this urban growth will take place in Africa and Asia.

Unplanned or inadequately managed urban expansion, together with unsustainable production and consumption patterns, are often accompanied by urban sprawl, increased pollution and environmental degradation. Policies to manage urban growth need to ensure access to infrastructure and social services for all, focusing on the needs of the urban poor and other vulnerable groups for housing, education, health care, decent work and a safe environment.

During the current session of the Commission on Population and Development, representatives and experts from UN Member States, UN entities and civil society will gather to consider the theme, “Review and appraisal of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and its contribution to the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” The deliberations at the Commission will assist countries in integrating critical population issues during the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, to be organized by the Economic and Social Council, in July 2019.

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Find out more about the 52nd session of the Commission on Population and Development and follow the plenary session via UN Web TV.

Available for interviews:

John Wilmoth, Director, Population Division, UN DESA
Dr. Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA

Media contacts:

Dan Shepard, UN Department Global Communications, +1 212-963-9495, shepard@un.org
Omar Gharzeddine, UNFPA, +1 212-297-5028, gharzeddine@unfpa.org